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The value of trophic interactions for ecosystem function: dung beetle communities influence seed burial and seedling recruitment in tropical forests

Research output: Contribution to journal › Journal article

Published
Article number20161634
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>14/12/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1844
Volume283
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished
Early online date7/12/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Anthropogenic activities are causing species extinctions, raising concerns about the consequences of changing biological communities for ecosystem functioning. To address this, we investigated how dung beetle communities influence seed burial and seedling recruitment in the Brazilian Amazon. First, we conducted a burial and retrieval experiment using seed mimics. We found that dung beetle biomass had a stronger positive effect on the burial of large than small beads, suggesting that anthropogenic reductions in large-bodied beetles will have the greatest effect on the secondary dispersal of large-seeded plant species. Second, we established mesocosm experiments in which dung beetle communities buried Myrciaria dubia seeds to examine plant emergence and survival. Contrary to expectations, we found that beetle diversity and biomass negatively influenced seedling emergence, but positively affected the survival of seedlings that emerged. Finally, we conducted germination trials to establish the optimum burial depth of experimental seeds, revealing a negative relationship between burial depth and seedling emergence success. Our results provide novel evidence that seed burial by dung beetles may be detrimental for the emergence of some seed species. However, we also detected positive impacts of beetle activity on seedling recruitment, which are probably because of their influence on soil properties. Overall, this study provides new evidence that anthropogenic impacts on dung beetle communities could influence the structure of tropical forests; in particular, their capacity to regenerate and continue to provide valuable functions and services.