Journal of Tropical Ecology



Seed-dispersal and seedling recruitment patterns by the last Neotropical megafaunal element in Amazonia, the tapir


José M. V.  Fragoso a1p1 and Jean M.  Huffman a1p2
a1 Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA

Abstract

Tapirs (Tapiridae) are the last representatives of the Pleistocene megafauna of South and Central America. How they affect the ecology of plants was examined by studying the diversity, abundance, and condition of seeds defecated by the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) in Amazonian Brazil. Additionally, the spatio-temporal pattern of the seed-rain and seed-shadows generated by tapirs was recorded. Three hundred and fifty-six tapir faeces were examined. Eleven per cent were found in water (n = 41), while 88% were located on dry land (n = 315). Of those found on dry land, 84% were located at sites that flood seasonally, while 14% of the total were encountered at forest sites that do not flood. In 127 faeces checked in the laboratory over 12 906 seeds of at least 39 species were found. Seed viability ranged from 65% for Maximiliana maripa to 98% for Enterolobium schomburgkii. Of nine seed species planted in the laboratory, seven germinated within 4 wk, with one species achieving an 89% germination rate. For many species recruitment to the seedling stage was also high under natural conditions, with 13 plant species occurring as seedlings in older faeces. Tapir generated seed-rain occurred throughout the year, with seeds defecated in all months. Two temporal patterns in species seed rain occurred: (1) contiguous monthly occurrence with peaks in abundance, and (2) discontinuous occurrence (time clumped) with small (a few months) to large (many months to more than a year) temporal gaps. The highest diversity of seeds appeared in April, at the end of the dry season. As the last of the Pleistocene megafauna of the region, tapirs may have particular importance as dispersers of large seeds and generators of unique seed dispersion patterns.

(Accepted December 1 1999)


Key Words: megafauna; palms; seed dispersal; secondary dispersal; seed rain; seed shadows; tapir; Tapirus terrestris; tropical forest structure; Maraca Island.

Correspondence:
p1 Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, 33431-0991 USA. E-mail: jfragoso@fau.edu.
p2 Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803 USA.