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Birds and bats sow tropical seeds

a destructive cycle of land fragmentation, habitat loss and -- even with replanting using wind-dispersed trees -- species loss.

Howe and his colleagues will lease 16 land parcels in Veracruz located near or adjacent to forest remnants or UNAM's protected rainforest to observe what trees grow, and why. Some tracts will be planted with 12 species of animal-dispersed trees, which will ultimately provide living bait with crops of bat- and bird-dispersed fruits.

Birds and bats living in nearby forests will fly to the bait to eat the fruit and will likely drop seed from forest species they carried. Fruit will be available all year, so a seasonal progression of seeds from longer-living deep forest species should be carried with the bats and birds. Other tracts will be planted with wind-dispersed trees and will be far less likely to accumulate tree species from nearby forests.

"In the tropics, things grow fast," said Howe. "By the end of the first five years, we'll begin to see the influence of animal and wind dispersal. In 10 years, we'll see a very strong effect of seed fall, germination and establishment. Once these stands of animal-dispersed trees have grown up and start producing fruit, they'll be exporting their seeds to surrounding landscapes."

Over the coming years, tree growth in adjacent forest remnants will be studied. Howe suspects that evidence will support the hypothesis that birds and bats transport a rich mix of tree seeds, including the more enduring deep forest species.

"It's a way of providing connection between existing, isolated trees, remnants and fragments and large tracts growing along rivers in rain forests," he said.

"I think what it will show is that the replanting that almost everybody does in (tropical regions) is an extremely inefficient way to maintain and promote species diversity."

Howe hopes the project -- which he expects will run for 20 years or more -- will attract additional fundi
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Source:University of Illinois at Chicago


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