Dispersal is thought to be a key process underlying the high spatial diversity of tropical forests. Just how important dispersal is in structuring plant communities is nevertheless an open question because it is very difficult to isolate dispersal from other processes, and thereby measure its effect. Using a unique situation, the loss of vertebrate seed dispersers on the island of Guam and their presence on the neighboring islands of Saipan and Rota, we quantify the contribution of vertebrate seed dispersal to spatial patterns of diversity of tree seedlings in treefall gaps. The presence of vertebrate seed dispersers approximately doubled seedling species richness within canopy gaps and halved species turnover among gaps. Our study demonstrates that dispersal plays a key role in maintaining local and regional patterns of diversity, and highlights the potential for ongoing declines in vertebrate seed dispersers to profoundly alter tropical forest composition.
|Number of pages
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - 3 Oct 2017