Effect of forest fragmentation on dung beetle communities and functional consequences for plant regeneration
I compared dung beetle communities and assessed some of their functional effects (dung removal, seed burial, seedling establishment) in continuous forest with those in 1-ha and 10-ha forest fragments in Central Amazonia. I followed the fate of seeds until seedling establishment for three native tree species, using clean seeds and seeds surrounded by dung. The 1-ha fragments had half the number of dung beetle species captured in continuous forest and in 10-ha fragments. The continuous forest sites and the 1-ha fragments had similar number of individuals, but in the 10-ha fragments dung beetles were twice as abundant. Mean beetle size increased with increasing forest area. Dung removal and seed burial rates were higher in continuous forest than in forest fragments. Seed predation rates were higher in the forest fragments. In all sites, the proportion of seedlings established from seeds surrounded by dung vs clean seeds was the same, and it was the same in continuous forest vs fragments. When comparing seeds that remained on the forest floor with seeds buried by dung beetles, a higher percentage of seedlings established from the latter. Conservation programs that aim to maintain the regeneration ability of forest fragments must incorporate all the important components involved in seedling establishment; in Central Amazonia these include dung beetles as secondary dispersers. It is important that studies start measuring directly not only the first-order effects of forest fragmentation on species, but also the higher-order functional effects.