The extinction of large, fruit-eating birds in fragments of Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest has caused palm trees to produce smaller seeds over the past century, impacting forest ecology, found a study published in Science.
The researchers looked at Euterpe edulis palm seeds in patches of forest that have been fragmented by deforestation, coffee plantations, and sugar cane fields since the 19th century. They found that palm trees produced significantly smaller seeds in areas of forest that are too small to support “large-gaped” birds like toucans and large cotingas. The absence of these birds means that larger seeds aren’t effectively dispersed, while smaller seeds are more vulnerable to drying out before germinating. The outlook for Euterpe edulis palms — and the species that depend on them — is therefore bleak in these fragments.
Fragmentation is having other impacts as well. Research published in Science in September documented a stunning and rapid decline in mammal populations in isolated forest fragments. Mammals suffered from population isolation, degradation of habitat, and invasive species.
Rainforest news review for 2013.