Journal Article
2017
Plant-disperser mutualisms in a semi-arid habitat invaded by Lantana camara L.
Plant Ecology 218 (8): 935-946

Dispersal is an important ecological process that affects plant population structure and community composition. Invasive plants with fleshy fruits rapidly form associations with native and invasive dispersers, and may affect existing native plant-disperser associations. We asked whether frugivore visitation rate and fruit removal was associated with plant characteristics in a community of fleshy-fruited plants and whether an invasive plant receives more visitation and greater fruit removal than native plants in a semi-arid habitat of Andhra Pradesh, India. Tree-watches were undertaken at individuals of nine native and one invasive shrub species to assess the identity, number and fruit removal by avian frugivores. Network analyses and generalised linear mixed-effects models were used to understand species and community-level patterns. All plants received most number of visits from abundant, generalist avian frugivores. Number of frugivore visits and time spent by frugivores at individual plants was positively associated with fruit crop size, while fruit removal was positively associated with number of frugivore visits and their mean foraging time at individual plants. The invasive shrub, Lantana camara L. (Lantana), had lower average frugivore visit rate than the community of fleshy-fruited plants and received similar average frugivore visits but greater average per-hour fruit removal than two other concurrently fruiting native species. Based on the results of our study, we infer that there is little evidence of competition between native plants and Lantana for the dispersal services of native frugivores and that more data are required to assess the nature of these interactions over the long term. We speculate that plant associations with generalist frugivores may increase the functional redundancy of this frugivory network, buffering it against loss of participating species.

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