About the FSD Symposium-Workshop

Foreword

 

The persistence and distribution of any plant species is affected by many factors, but no wild plant could be where it is now without its seed or spore (or an ancestral seed or spore of plants that sometimes spread non-sexually) having traveled to a spot where it could germinate and grow. Many plants appear unlikely to grow or persist if their seeds remain too close to their parents, whether because they compete with parent and siblings for resources (light, nutrients, water, space) or because the seeds or seedlings are more likely to be found there by seed-eating or herbivorous animals or pathogens. Seeds of plants can be carried by wind or water, or simply drop by gravity, or they can travel by clinging to fur or feathers. They may also be attached to or enclosed in a fleshy pulp which is eaten by animals, carried from the parent plant, and discarded, some hopefully landing in places suitable for survival and growth. This has led to some intriguing adaptations by both plants and animals.

In tropical and subtropical rainforests throughout the world, fleshy-fruited plant species are the rule rather than the exception, their proportion decreasing towards cooler and drier regions in mediterranean and temperate regions.

This mutualism (mutually-beneficial relationship, where each species enhances the survival or reproduction chances of the other) of frugivores and seed dispersal is far from simple, and brings many challenges in ecological and evolutionary theory. There have so far been five international gatherings of scientists interested in this field (for published proceedings see Estrada & Fleming 1986, Fleming &  Estrada 1993, Levey et al. 2001, Dennis et al. 2007, Forget et al. 2011).

Biodiversity involves not just the preservation of species, genetic code and habitat types but also a range of natural ecological processes, and it is important to keep frugivores and seed dispersal systems functioning for this reason alone. In addition, many plant species may fail to keep reproducing themselves without their dispersers, and many frugivores will be disadvantaged if they cannot find sufficient fruits in lean seasons. This needs to be remembered for instances when managing habitat fragments and providing resources for both sedentary and migratory birds. Some frugivores can be encouraged to assist in restoring habitat in mining areas, degraded slopes and abandoned agricultural land, if we can decide which dispersers we should try to attract and how to best do so.

Human-designed landscapes can benefit also from a study of frugivores and seed dispersal. Nature-loving gardeners and managers of public parks can choose to plant trees, shrubs, vines and herbs to attract a variety of frugivorous birds, and perhaps a few other creatures as well. Colorful fruits can be attractive garden features and many are edible by humans, albeit with a wide range of palatability. However, birds and bats unfortunately do not just disperse the seeds of native fruits but also those of fleshy-fruited weeds, and an ever-increasing body of researchers in all biomes is looking at ways of predicting and solving problems.

* Based on an original text by Ronda Green, slightly changed by Pierre-Michel Forget

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