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UF research aims to help preserve plants, animals caught between forest 'fragments'
Date:5/18/2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Maintaining the world's threatened animal and plant species may rest with something as simple as knowing how far a bird can fly before it must answer nature's call.

Birds disperse seeds as they travel, but deforestation can mean those seeds might land where they can't sprout and grow, according to a University of Florida researcher who co-wrote a study in last month's issue of Ecology that looks at how tropical birds disperse plant seeds in Brazil's Amazon rainforest.

If birds spread plant seeds in inhospitable places, the long-term consequences can be reduced diversity in large tracts of the Amazon, said Emilio Bruna, an associate professor in wildlife ecology and conservation. And that could be bad news for scientists trying to study and conserve species in the most biodiversity-rich land mass on Earth.

The work took a comprehensive approach to the question of where seeds are dispersed not only tracking plants, recording bird flight patterns and studying their behavior, but incorporating their observations in sophisticated mathematical models and computer simulations.

Bruna, who holds joint appointments in UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Center for Latin American Studies, worked with scientists from Columbia University, Louisiana State University and Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research.

The idea behind the National Science Foundation-funded study was to look at seed dispersal in parts of the rainforest where deforestation has left pockets of undisturbed land, called "fragments."

Human activity, such as logging or housing development or farming, leaves those fragments behind, sometimes close together; sometimes not.

Ensuring the survival of plants and animals that live in those fragmented areas, and finding ways to connect those fragments, is a big focus for conservation biologists, Bruna said.

"Understanding the consequences of habi
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Contact: Emilio Bruna
embruna@ufl.edu
352-846-0634
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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