Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Teamwork in the tropics – pollinators and frugivores are less choosy at the equator

The bright crimson Andean Cock-of-the-rock eats the fruits of over 100 plant species and disperses their seeds.

It is in good company, since other seed-dispersing birds and pollinating insects in the tropics are also – contrary to prior doctrine – less specialised on individual plant species than their temperate counterparts.

The diet of the bright crimson Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana) includes fruits of over 100 different plants of the tropical montane rainforest.

© Matthias Dehling

This is the outcome of a study conducted by an international research group, which is published today in the journal “Current Biology”. This suggests that ecosystem functions such as pollination and seed dispersal in the tropics have a higher tolerance against extirpations of individual species than in the temperate communities.

It is a win-win business for bees and plants: bees forage on plant nectar, and in return they pollinate the next flower they visit. Virtually the same is true for fruit-eating birds, which by the way disperse the seeds of plants. A large number of such mutualistic interactions between species exist in an ecosystem, which together form a complex network. Scientists have now analysed the “Who with whom?” in a worldwide study and have discovered that the specialization of pollinators and seed disperses on individual plant species decreases towards the equator.

Surprising results: Specialists tend to be in the temperate zones
That is somewhat unexpected; after all, since Darwin it has been assumed that many pollinating insects and seed-dispersing birds in the tropics were specialised on a small part of the available plant species. Until now this co-evolution of reciprocal specialization has been an important explanation for the higher plant diversity in the tropics compared to temperate latitudes. “The results of our global analysis contradict the assumption that ecological communities in the tropics are generally more specialised than those in the temperate zones,” say Matthias Schleuning and Jochen Fründ, the lead authors of the study, from the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) and the University of Göttingen.

Generalisation as a response to plant diversity
“Our results show that specialization between animal and plant species tend to be rather a consequence of the available resources than the result of long-term adaptation processes,” explains Schleuning. This is also supported by a further finding of the study, according to which contemporary climate and the plant diversity in an ecosystem are more closely related to the interactions between animals and plants than past climate stability. “A simple explanation for this could be that the high tropical plant diversity provides many different resources to animals in a low density. "Whoever is not especially choosy is at an advantage, because then the next food source is not very far away, making foraging more efficient,” says Fründ.

Ecosystem functions in the tropics are probably more robust
The lower specialization in the tropics also provides advantages for the plants, because they are better insured against species extirpations - plants interacting with a number of animal species have a lower risk of extinction if individual species of pollinators or seed dispersers disappear or decline in number. “We therefore suppose that certain ecosystem functions such as pollination and seed dispersal are less susceptible to disruption in the tropics than in the temperate zones. Due to the generalised relationships and the greater diversity, more species can replace the functions of individual declining species,” says Nico Blüthgen, the initiator of the study of TU Darmstadt. Such failures in the relationship between animals and plants can even have a considerable economic impact. This is demonstrated by the current massive collapse of bee colonies in the US, which leads to particularly high costs in those places where there is a lack of alternative pollinators.

For further information please contact:

Dr. Matthias Schleuning
LOEWE Biodiversity and Climate Research Center
Phone + 49 (0)69 7542 1892


Sabine Wendler
LOEWE Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, Press Officer
Phone + 49 (0)69 7542 1838

Press images are available in 300 dpi upon request. Please email to

Schleuning et al., Specialization of Mutualistic Interaction Networks Decreases toward Tropical Latitudes, Current Biology (2012),

LOEWE Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum, Frankfurt am Main
With the objective of analysis the complex interactions between biodiversity and climate through a wide range of methods, the Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum [Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre] (BiK‐F) has been funded since 2008 within the context of the Landes‐Offensive zur Entwicklung Wissenschaftlich ökonomischer Exzellenz (LOEWE) of the Land of Hessen. The Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Goethe University in Frankfurt as well as other, directly involved partners, co‐operate closely with regional, national and international institutions in the fields of science, resource and environmental management, in order to develop projections for the future and scientific recommendations for sustainable action.

Sabine Wendler | Senckenberg
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>