Plant Frugivore Networks Interpreting the Biodiversity of Interactions

In many ecological communities, plant-frugivore interactions are a key process in the maintenance of diversity. At the community level, the interactions between plants and frugivores are integrated in complex webs of species interactions. The analytical methodology developed in the ecology of food webs has offered an ideal conceptual framework for the study of such mutualistic networks. This approach allows the description of the macroscopic structure of the entire web at the time that allows determining how fragile such interactions are in front of different types of disturbances (e.g., introduction of an alien species, changes in the abundance of particular species, extinctions, etc.). Common patterns emerging from these studies are: (1) a low number of strong dependences; (2) a high level of asymmetry in the interactions (thus if a plant depends strongly on a frugivore species, the animal depends weakly on the plant); and (3) a great heterogeneity in the strength of interactions among species. The three characteristics contribute to the maintenance of species coexistence in the community. A recent study performed in the Mata Atlantica of Brazil with this network approach has revealed strong levels of unpredictability in the final number of disturbed species as well as the seed dispersal collapse of a number of plants after the extinction of endangered vertebrate seed dispersers.

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