We studied changes in germination rates and dispersal distance of seeds of Ficus perforata and F. lundelli dispersed by howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata mexicana), in a small (40 ha) ‘disturbed’ and a larger (>600 ha) ‘preserved’ tropical rainforest in southern Veracruz, Mexico. The interaction between A. p. mexicana and Ficus (Urostigma) spp. is beneficial for the interacting species and has important implications for their conservation. Howler monkeys gain from the ingestion of an important food source, germination rates of Ficus seeds are improved by passage through the monkeys' digestive tract, and the seeds are more likely to be deposited in a site suitable for germination and development. Seed dispersal distances are relatively larger in the preserved site, with both the size of the forest area and the spatial pattern of Ficus affecting the dispersal process. In a large forest fragment with ‘regularly’ distributed Ficus individuals the howler monkeys move away from the seed source, increasing the probability that the seeds are desposited on a tree other than Ficus, which is important for the germination and future development of a hemiepiphytic species. In a small forest fragment with trees distributed in clumps howlers repeatedly use the same individual trees, and faeces containing seeds may be dropped on unsuitable trees more often. These are key issues when addressing conservation policies for fragmented forests.
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