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Beaune, David; Bretagnolle, Francois; Bollache, Loic; Hohmann, Gottfried; Surbeck, Martin and Fruth, Barbara (2013): Seed dispersal strategies and the threat of defaunation in a Congo forest. In: Biodiversity and Conservation, Vol. 22, No. 1: pp. 225-238

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Seed dispersal mode of plants and primary interactions with animals are studied in the evergreen Afrotropical forest of LuiKotale, at the south-western part of Salonga National Park (DR Congo). We first analysed seed dispersal strategies for (a) the plant species inventoried over a decade at the study site and (b) the tree community in 12 x 1 ha census plots. Our analyses of dispersal syndromes for 735 identified plant species show that 85 % produce fleshy fruits and rely on animals for primary seed dispersal. Trees depending on animals for primary dispersal dominate the tree community (95 %), while wind-dispersed and autochorous trees are rare in mixed tropical forests. A list of frugivorous vertebrate species of the ecosystem was established. Among the fruit-eating vertebrate species identified in the ecosystem, forest elephants and bonobos are threatened with extinction (IUCN, The IUCN red list of threatened species, 2012). Although most of the species listed previously are internationally and regionally protected, all the species we observed dispersing seeds are hunted, fished or trapped by humans in the area. With the exception of bush pigs, seed predators, mainly small-sized animals, are generally not targeted by hunters. As a consequence, we expect human pressure on key animal species to impact the plant community. We suggest defaunation to be considered as major conservation problem. Thus, not only for the sake of animal species but also for that of plant species conservation, anti-poaching measures should have priority in both "protected" and unprotected areas. Defaunation could bring a new impoverished era for plants in tropical forests.

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