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What happens in a forest with fewer seed PREDATORS?

February 03, 2014

What happens in a forest with fewer seed PREDATORS?

In Panama’s Barro Colorado Nature Monument there are patches of jungle where one of the most common Neotropical mammals, the seed-devouring agouti, has not stepped for 15 years

In Panama’s Barro Colorado Nature Monument there are patches of jungle where one of the most common Neotropical mammals, the seed-devouring agouti, has not stepped for 15 years. Wild pigs, brocket deer and anteaters have largely been kept out as well. That’s exactly what Walter Carson and colleagues expected when they fenced off the forest. What happened in the ensuing years was not.

Carson, a professor of plant community ecology at the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues originally expected that excluding ground-dwelling mammals would have a negative impact on seedling diversity. In fact, keeping out these creatures - which are considered important seed dispersers - led to an increase in tree diversity and density.

“We thought that these ground-dwelling mammals were probably the key to promoting high diversity in a tropical forest,” said Carson. “A 15-year study has shown that is, at best, only moderately true. Certainly, they are not the player we all thought they were in the mid-1990s.”

The fences still stand so time may tell a different story. It takes many years for saplings to thin. “I think we need another 20 years,” he said. “If you do experiments in tropical forests it can take a long time.”

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