Multi-scale habitat selection of key frugivores predicts large-seeded tree recruitment in tropical forest restoration


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Large-seeded, animal-dispersed (LSAD) trees include some of the most valuable and threatened species in the tropics, but they are chronically underrepresented in regenerating forests. Toucans disperse many LSAD species, so attracting toucans to regenerating forests should help re-establish more diverse tree communities. We ask: (1) What constitutes suitable toucan habitat in premontane southern Costa Rica? (2) How much do small-scale restoration strategies influence toucan visitation compared to landscape-scale habitat suitability outside of restoration sites? (3) How well does toucan visitation predict the richness of LSAD tree species recruiting into regenerating forests? We combined habitat suitability models with long-term toucan observations and comprehensive tree recruitment surveys to assess these questions in a multi-site forest restoration experiment. Restoration treatments included tree plantations, natural regeneration, and applied nucleation. Habitat suitability obtained by modeling for three sympatric toucan species was predicted by elevation and the extent and age of landscape forest cover. Within suitable landscapes, toucans visited areas restored via tree planting ≥5 yr sooner and ≥2× more often than plots restored via natural regeneration. Tree plantations in suitable toucan habitat at the landscape scale had LSAD tree recruitment communities that were 2–3× richer in species than plantations in poor toucan habitat, and 71% (15/21) of all recruiting LSAD tree species were found only in plantations where landscape habitat was suitable for the largest toucan, Ramphastos ambiguus. Results support a multi-spatial-scale model for predicting toucan-mediated dispersal of LSAD trees. Tree planting increases toucan visitation and LSAD tree recruitment, but only within landscapes that represent suitable toucan habitat. More broadly, habitat suitability modeling for key seed dispersers can help prioritize restoration actions within heterogenous landscapes.



Ecology, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, biodiversity conservation, frugivory, habitat suitability, natural regeneration, secondary forest, seed dispersal, species interaction, tree plantation, zoochory, KEEL-BILLED TOUCANS, DISPERSAL EFFECTIVENESS, SPECIES DISTRIBUTIONS, NEOTROPICAL TREE, SUITABILITY, PLANT, TIME, CONSEQUENCES, CONNECTIVITY, CONSERVATION, 0501 Ecological Applications, 0602 Ecology, 0608 Zoology