Long Distance Seed Dispersal by Forest Elephants

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2021-12-22

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Abstract

By dispersing seeds long distances, large, fruit-eating animals influence plant population spread and community dynamics. After fruit consumption, animal gut passage time and movement determine seed dispersal patterns and distances. These, in turn, are influenced by extrinsic, environmental variables and intrinsic, individual-level variables. We simulated seed dispersal by forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) by integrating gut passage data from wild elephants with movement data from 96 individuals. On average, elephants dispersed seeds 5.3 km, with 89% of seeds dispersed farther than 1 km. The longest simulated seed dispersal distance was 101 km, with an average maximum dispersal distance of 40.1 km. Seed dispersal distances varied among national parks, perhaps due to unmeasured environmental differences such as habitat heterogeneity and configuration, but not with human disturbance or habitat openness. On average, male elephants dispersed seeds farther than females. Elephant behavioral traits strongly influenced dispersal distances, with bold, exploratory elephants dispersing seeds 1.1 km farther than shy, idler elephants. Protection of forest elephants, particularly males and highly mobile, exploratory individuals, is critical to maintaining long distance seed dispersal services that shape plant communities and tropical forest habitat.

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10.3389/fevo.2021.789264

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Poulsen, JR, C Beirne, C Rundel, M Baldino, S Kim, J Knorr, T Minich, L Jin, et al. (2021). Long Distance Seed Dispersal by Forest Elephants. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9. 10.3389/fevo.2021.789264 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/24282.

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Scholars@Duke

Rundel

Colin Rundel

Associate Professor of the Practice of Statistical Science
Wright

Justin Prouty Wright

Professor of Biology

My research focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of patterns of biological diversity across the planet. I am particularly interested in two broad questions: 1)How does the modification of the environment by organisms affect community structure and ecosystem function? and 2) what aspects of biodiversity matter most in the regulation of ecosystem function? While much of my research has focused on wetland plant communities, I am willing to study any organism and work in any ecosystem to answer the questions that interest me. I have worked in systems ranging from tropical streams to desert shrublands. My research program combines observational and experimental approaches with modeling to develop and test hypotheses and build towards synthetic ecological theory.


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