Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Preserving plants and animals caught between forest 'fragments'

Date:
May 19, 2011
Source:
University of Florida
Summary:
Maintaining the world's threatened animal and plant species may rest with something as simple as knowing how far a bird can fly before it must answer nature's call.

Maintaining the world's threatened animal and plant species may rest with something as simple as knowing how far a bird can fly before it must answer nature's call. Birds disperse seeds as they travel, but deforestation can mean those seeds might land where they can't sprout and grow.
Credit: © Xico Putini / Fotolia

Maintaining the world's threatened animal and plant species may rest with something as simple as knowing how far a bird can fly before it must answer nature's call.

Birds disperse seeds as they travel, but deforestation can mean those seeds might land where they can't sprout and grow, according to a University of Florida researcher who co-wrote a study in last month's issue of Ecology that looks at how tropical birds disperse plant seeds in Brazil's Amazon rainforest.

If birds spread plant seeds in inhospitable places, the long-term consequences can be reduced diversity in large tracts of the Amazon, said Emilio Bruna, an associate professor in wildlife ecology and conservation. And that could be bad news for scientists trying to study and conserve species in the most biodiversity-rich land mass on Earth.

The work took a comprehensive approach to the question of where seeds are dispersed -- not only tracking plants, recording bird flight patterns and studying their behavior, but incorporating their observations in sophisticated mathematical models and computer simulations.

Bruna, who holds joint appointments in UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Center for Latin American Studies, worked with scientists from Columbia University, Louisiana State University and Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research.

The idea behind the National Science Foundation-funded study was to look at seed dispersal in parts of the rainforest where deforestation has left pockets of undisturbed land, called "fragments."

Human activity, such as logging or housing development or farming, leaves those fragments behind, sometimes close together; sometimes not.

Ensuring the survival of plants and animals that live in those fragmented areas, and finding ways to connect those fragments, is a big focus for conservation biologists, Bruna said.

"Understanding the consequences of habitat fragmentation is a huge area of research because that's what a lot of ecosystems have come to -- either that's all we're left with, or we're heading in that direction," he said. "It's a really pressing problem across the world."

The study began with researchers trapping six species of tropical birds in mist nets and equipping them with radio transmitters, so that they could follow individual birds' movements.

Before that, however, researchers fed the birds seeds from native plants and monitored their digestive habits, using the data to build statistical models that, combined with information from the radio transmitters, let them estimate how far the birds flew before dropping seeds.

Researchers were surprised to learn that only one of the six species, Turdus albicollis -- the largest of the birds they studied -- actually ingested the seeds. That species also flew farther than any of the other birds.

"A lot of ecology has focused on the movement of birds," said Maria Uriarte, a professor in ecology, evolution and environmental biology at Columbia University, and the paper's lead author. "We found that it's all about the big birds and where they like to be."

The other birds would eat, fly to a nearby tree branch, chew the seed for a bit and usually spit it out.

The seed in question belonged to a plant called Heliconia acuminata. The scientists chose it because it grows low to the ground, is easy to work with and easily identified. The plant has no common name, but casual observers would probably liken it to a Bird of Paradise, he said.

If the Heliconia acuminata's seed is dropped by a bird between forest fragments, he said, the seed more than likely will bake in the heat, and no plant will grow. Long-distance dispersal is critical for plants to establish new populations.

The take-home message for scientists and conservationists is that if forest fragments are so far apart that the animals and plants can't make the trip, humans may have to lend a helping hand.

It may be that some type of stepping-stone vegetation is needed between fragments, so that birds and animals have places to rest as they move from one to another. Or maybe humans need to leave forested corridors between those fragments to connect them, Bruna said.

"This study really highlights the importance of, the word that's used a lot is 'connectivity' -- figuring out ways we can maintain fragments of habitat and keep them connected to each other."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Florida. The original article was written by Claudia Adrien. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Marνa Uriarte, Marina Anciγes, Mariana T. B. da Silva, Paulo Rubim, Erik Johnson, Emilio M. Bruna. Disentangling the drivers of reduced long-distance seed dispersal by birds in an experimentally fragmented landscape. Ecology, 2011; 92 (4): 924 DOI: 10.1890/10-0709.1

Cite This Page:

University of Florida. "Preserving plants and animals caught between forest 'fragments'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518151816.htm>.
University of Florida. (2011, May 19). Preserving plants and animals caught between forest 'fragments'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518151816.htm
University of Florida. "Preserving plants and animals caught between forest 'fragments'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518151816.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) — An 8-year-old boy is bitten in the leg by a shark while vacationing at a Florida beach. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) — The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Newsy (July 23, 2014) — A U.C. San Diego researcher says jealousy isn't just a human trait, and dogs aren't the best at sharing the attention of humans with other dogs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Newsy (July 23, 2014) — ​It's called I Know Where Your Cat Lives, and you can keep hitting the "Random Cat" button to find more real cats all over the world. Video provided by Newsy
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