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Fatal connection


Deforestation of one of the last European primeval forests has far-reaching consequences for the plants and animals living there – this is shown in a large-scale study published by biologists from Marburg and their Polish partners in the journal “Nature Communications”. The authors take into account interactions of plants with pollinators on the one hand, and with seed dispersers on the other hand. The effects of deforestation on interaction partners are coupled to each other: If one knows the consequences for the pollinator, the consequences for seed dispersers can also be predicted.

“Many plants rely on pollination of their flowers by insects and also need birds or mammals that disperse the plant seeds", first author Jörg Albrecht explains. "In this case, pollinators and seed dispersers indirectly benefit each other because they increase the reproductive success and dispersal capacity of the shared food plants."

A woodpecker is feeding on the fruit of the Red currant (Ribes spicatum). By defecating the plant seeds elsewhere, the bird contributes to their dispersal.

(Photo: University of Marburg / Jörg Albrecht)

Core zone of the Białowieża National Park

(Photo: University of Marburg / Jörg Albrecht)

So far, most studies focus exclusively on a single type of interaction: e.g., on the relationship between predator and prey, or on the interaction of plants with their pollinators. But, as the authors point out, “the same species are often involved in multiple processes."

Scientists led by Associate Professor Dr. Nina Farwig and Professor Dr. Roland Brandl of the University of Marburg wanted to know whether the destruction of habitats acts in the same way on multiple interaction networks.

The researchers found strong evidence for coupled responses of pollinators and seed dispersers to logging: "Our findings signal an alarm," the authors write, "as they predict that the conversion of primary old-growth forest ecosystems to secondary habitats may involve a parallel loss of multiple animal-mediated ecosystem services."

Dr. Nina Farwig holds the Robert Bosch Junior Professorship for "Sustainable Use of Natural Resources" at the University of Marburg. The current study was part of the doctoral thesis of Jörg Albrecht in the "Conservation Ecology" group under the supervision of Nina Farwig.

The project was funded as part of a doctoral fellowship from the German Federal Environmental Foundation to Jörg Albrecht and by funds from the Robert Bosch Foundation to Nina Farwig. Co-author Professor Dr. Roland Brandl is head of the "Department of Ecology – Animal ecology" group at the University of Marburg.

Original publication: Jörg Albrecht & al.: Correlated loss of ecosystem services in coupled mutualistic networks, Nature Communications, 2014, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4810

For more information:
Jörg Albrecht, MSc.
Arbeitsgruppe Naturschutzökologie
Tel.: 06421 28-25385

Juniorprofessorin Dr. Nina Farwig,
Arbeitsgruppe Naturschutzökologie
Tel.: 06421 28-23478

Johannes Scholten | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Ecology ecology ecosystem ecosystems evidence flowers pollinators reproductive species

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