Fragmentation reduces community-wide taxonomic and functional diversity of dispersed tree seeds in the Central Amazon

The Amazon harbors one of the most diverse tree floras on earth, and most species depend on mutualists for pollination and seed dispersal. This makes them susceptible to reproductive decline in fragmented forest because many of these mutualists suffer area‐related extinction in fragments. It remains unknown, however, whether this highly biodiverse tree flora will reproduce and ultimately persist in fragmented forest. We conducted a 2‐yr study of seed fall in an experimentally fragmented, highly diverse Central Amazonian forest. We determined the effect of fragment size (1, 10, 100 ha and continuous forest control) on the density, species richness, functional diversity and functional composition of seeds separated into two data sets: dispersed tree seeds, and undispersed tree seeds. Our results show a 3× reduction in the density of undispersed, non‐pioneer tree seeds in fragments of all sizes, indicating reduced seed production of the non‐pioneer tree community. The density of dispersed tree seeds was reduced by 6× in fragments of all sizes, while species richness was reduced by 6× in 1‐ha fragments and by 3× in 10‐ and 100‐ha fragments compared to intact forest. This provides evidence of reduced community‐wide seed dispersal, which became more pronounced with declining fragment size. The functional diversity (FR ic) of dispersed tree seeds was reduced 9.6× in small fragments, and significant shifts in the functional composition for 8 of the 10 reproductive and ecological traits studied were identified, suggesting compromised ecosystem functioning. These functional compositional shifts provide evidence for disrupted mutualistic processes in fragments, which include loss of pollination by bees, especially small eusocial (meliponid) bees, and loss of dispersal by primates and large birds, which reduced the frequency of large‐seeded tree species. Fragments also lost rare and mature‐forest species, and collectively these changes suggest that future tree communities in fragmented Amazonian landscapes will retain a taxonomically and functionally impoverished species pool with a biased functional composition unless efforts are undertaken to conserve dispersal by large frugivores and pollination by meliponid bees.

Elaine R. Hooper & Mark S. Ashton
Ecological Applications