"Megaherbivores act as the 'gardeners' of humid tropical forests: They are vital to forest regeneration and maintain its structure and biodiversity", as was explained to SINC by Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, the lead author of the study that was published in the 'Biotropica' journal and researcher at the School of Geography of the University of Nottingham in Malaysia.
In these forests in East Asia, the large diversity of plant species means that there is not enough space for all the trees to germinate and grow. As well as the scarce light, seed dispersion is made more complicated by the lack of wind due to the trees that are up to 90 metres high. Plant life is then limited to seeds dispersed by those animals that eat pulp. They either scatter seeds by dropping their food, regurgitating it or by defecating later on.
In the case of large seeds, "plants need a large animal capable of eating, transporting and defecating the seeds in good conditions," as outlined to SINC by Luis Santamaría, co-author and researcher at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA) of Spain's CSIC Scientific Research Agency. This is where elephants and rhinoceroses come into play because they can scatter large quantities of seeds thanks to the fact that they slowly digest very little of their food.
However, habitat loss, poaching, and the conflict between elephant and man has caused a 95% loss in Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) historical distribution range and has left the rhinoceros just a step away from extinction: there are less than 50 Java rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and 200 Sumatra rhinoceroses (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).
According to the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), elephants are in 'danger of extinction' and the two rhinoceros species are 'critically endangered'.Asian tapirs are no elephants
The study allowed researchers to analyse the effect of dispersion by tapirs on the seed survival of nine different plants. This included some large plant species such as the mango tree and durian, as well as other smaller species like the 'elephant apple' (Dillenia indica).
Among other outcomes, the results show that tapirs defecated 8% of the tamarind seeds ingested (none of which germinated) compared to elephants, who defecated 75% of the 2,390 ingested seeds (65% of which germinated).
"The Asian tapirs spit, chew or digest the majority of large seeds. This either destroys them or leaves them in the same place. As a result, they are not good dispersers for plants with large fruits and seeds," confirms Campos-Arceiz. In this sense, "given the role that they play they belong to a different group to elephants and rhinoceroses."Stopping illegal hunting is the priority
Without large herbivores, new large seed plants will always grow in close proximity to the mother plant and are therefore "unable to colonise available space in other forest areas," warns the IMEDEA researcher.
In this respect, those species that depend on large animals will become increasingly rare whereas those that depend on the wind and smaller, abundant animals will increase in terms of density and dominance. Campos-Arceiz asserts that "at the end of the day, the composition and structure of the forest changes and ends up becoming less complex on a structural and functional level: this translates as a loss of biodiversity."
To avoid such a scenario, researchers suggest that megafauna should be protected and in some cases megaherbivores should be reintroduced into areas from where they had previously disappeared. "In the south-east of Asia, the priority is to stop illegal hunting and mitigate the impact of habitat loss," indicates the expert, criticising the "absurd" motivation to kill in order to sell their horns and tusks for traditional medicine ("with no therapeutic benefits") or to make ornamental products. This also highlights the need to combat illegal trade in a "much more determined way."Reference
SINC Team | EurekAlert!
Plant seeds survive machine washing - Dispersal of invasive plants with clothes
11.09.2018 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.
Air pollution leads to cardiovascular diseases
21.08.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz (Germany) together with scientists from Dresden, Leipzig, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Madrid (Spain) have now developed and characterized a novel, metal-organic material which displays electrical properties mimicking those of highly crystalline silicon. The material which can easily be fabricated at room temperature could serve as a replacement for expensive conventional inorganic materials used in optoelectronics.
Silicon, a so called semiconductor, is currently widely employed for the development of components such as solar cells, LEDs or computer chips. High purity...
Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles
Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...
When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.
We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...
Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...
Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...
17.10.2018 | Event News
16.10.2018 | Event News
02.10.2018 | Event News
22.10.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
19.10.2018 | Life Sciences
19.10.2018 | Physics and Astronomy