Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fruit-Eating Birds Discovered Crucial To Rainforest Survival

Date:
August 17, 1998
Source:
San Francisco State University
Summary:
The fate of tropical rainforests in Western and Central Africa depends in large part on the survival of magnificent fruit-loving birds known as hornbills, new research has revealed.

New study reveals that African hornbills wander widely through the rainforest, dispersing seeds and playing a major, unsuspected role in forest regeneration

SAN FRANCISCO -- August 6, 1998 -- The fate of tropical rainforests in Western and Central Africa depends in large part on the survival of magnificent fruit-loving birds known as hornbills, new research has revealed.

In a three-year study in a remote Cameroon rain forest, biologists at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Davis have discovered that the toucan-like birds disperse seeds of nearly a fourth of the tropical trees, flying 100 miles or more through the forest in search of ripening fruit. Until this study, the birds were thought to be sedentary, residing throughout the year in patches of rainforest.

As other important seed dispersers such as elephants and primates continue to decline in the region due to habitat destruction and hunting , hornbills become even more important for rain forest regrowth and survival.

"The survival of the rainforest appears to rely to a large degree on the hornbills' ability to disperse seeds of so many species," said Thomas Smith, associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University and co-author of two scientific papers just published on the Cameroon study. "If we have any hope of protecting rainforests we need to protect not just the pattern of biodiversity but also the processes that create it. Our work suggests that by dispersing seeds, these magnificent birds are vital agents of biodiversity.

"The birds' surprisingly large range suggests that their own survival depends on preserving large expanses of rain forest intact," added Smith, who also holds a post as associate professor at the Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis.

The Cameroon study found that nearly all the seeds dispersed by the hornbills germinate successfully, making the birds one of the prime agents of lowland rainforest regeneration.

The resourceful hornbills may actually be nomads rather than migrants, wandering through the rainforest in search of fruit. Because of the difficulty of following the birds over great distances in the rainforest, Smith and colleagues are starting to work with scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to track the birds' movements by satellite. The biologists will attach small radio transmitters on up to 30 hornbills, and NASA will track their whereabouts.

"Hornbills were thought to live in relatively confined rainforest habitats," said Ken Whitney, who led the seed dispersal studies as a graduate student at San Francisco State. "But this research shows that the movement pattern of a few hornbill species may be more like that of elephants and some primates, rather than forest birds."

Whitney, now a doctoral student at UC Davis, is the senior author on papers reporting the hornbill research in the current issues of the Journal of Tropical Ecology and Animal Conservation.

The study found that two hornbill species in the genus Ceratogymna --C. atrata and C. cylindricus actively track ripening fruit through the forest, while a third species, C. fistulator, is sedentary.

With raucous calls, massive bills, and wingspans of up to four feet, hornbills commonly soar across gaps in the forest in search of ripe fruit. The study found that three hornbill species feed on about a quarter of all trees in the rainforest -- 59 species in all.

"Monkeys and elephants aren't as good at moving across gaps in the forest," says Smith, "so hornbills likely provide a crucial first step in forest regeneration, particularly in regions that have been cleared."

This is the first study to clarify both the hornbills' surprising range and the extraordinarily high numbers of plants for which they disperse the seeds.

Members of the Cameroon research team, and co-authors on one of the papers, include Mark Fogiel, Aaron Lamperti, Kimberly Holbrook, Donald Stauffer, Britta Hardesty, all graduate students at SFSU, and V. Thomas Parker, professor of biology at SFSU.

The research is funded by the New York Zoological Society/Wildlife Conservation Society, the National Science Foundation, San Francisco State University, and ECOFAC Cameroon.

SFSU is a highly diverse community of 27,000 students and 3,500 faculty and staff. It is one of the largest of the nationally recognized 23-campus California State University System. Founded in 1899, the University is approaching its 100th year of service to San Francisco, the Bay Area, California and beyond.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by San Francisco State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

San Francisco State University. "Fruit-Eating Birds Discovered Crucial To Rainforest Survival." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 August 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/08/980817080632.htm>.
San Francisco State University. (1998, August 17). Fruit-Eating Birds Discovered Crucial To Rainforest Survival. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/08/980817080632.htm
San Francisco State University. "Fruit-Eating Birds Discovered Crucial To Rainforest Survival." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/08/980817080632.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Super Healthful Fruits and Vegetables: Which Are Best?

Super Healthful Fruits and Vegetables: Which Are Best?

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) We all know that it is important to eat our fruits and vegetables but do you know which ones are the best for you? Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Firefighters Rescue Puppy Stuck in Tire

Raw: Firefighters Rescue Puppy Stuck in Tire

AP (Aug. 26, 2014) It took Houston firefighters more than an hour to free a puppy who got its head stuck in a tire. (Aug. 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Have You Ever Been 'Sleep Drunk?' 1 in 7 Has

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) A study published in the journal "Neurology" interviewed more than 19,000 people and found 15 percent suffer from being "sleep drunk." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Activists Urge NYC Mayor to Ban Carriage Horses

Activists Urge NYC Mayor to Ban Carriage Horses

AP (Aug. 26, 2014) A group of New Yorkers are putting Mayor Bill de Blasio on notice for what they say is reneging on his campaign promise to ban carriage horses. They rallied Tuesday near the mayor's Gracie Mansion home. (Aug. 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins