Extremely long-distance seed dispersal by an overfished Amazonian frugivore

Jill T. Anderson, Tim Nuttle, Joe S. Saldaña Rojas, Thomas H. Pendergast, Alexander S. Flecker

Throughout Amazonia, overfishing has decimated populations of fruit-eating fishes, especially the large-bodied characid, Colossoma macropomum. During lengthy annual floods, frugivorous fishes enter vast Amazonian floodplains, consume massive quantities of fallen fruits and egest viable seeds. Many tree and liana species are clearly specialized for icthyochory, and seed dispersal by fish may be crucial for the maintenance of Amazonian wetland forests. Unlike frugivorous mammals and birds, little is known about seed dispersal effectiveness of fishes. Extensive mobility of frugivorous fish could result in extremely effective, multi-directional, long-distance seed dispersal. Over three annual flood seasons, we tracked fine-scale movement patterns and habitat use of wild Colossoma, and seed retention in the digestive tracts of captive individuals. Our mechanistic model predicts that Colossoma disperses seeds extremely long distances to favourable habitats. Modelled mean dispersal distances of 337–552 m and maximum of 5495 m are among the longest ever reported. At least 5 per cent of seeds are predicted to disperse 1700–2110 m, farther than dispersal by almost all other frugivores reported in the literature. Additionally, seed dispersal distances increased with fish size, but overfishing has biased Colossoma populations to smaller individuals. Thus, overexploitation probably disrupts an ancient coevolutionary relationship between Colossoma and Amazonian plants.

  • Received January 24, 2011.
  • Accepted March 4, 2011.
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