Meta-analysis of the effects of human disturbance on seed dispersal by animals

Conserv Biol. 2012 Dec;26(6):1072-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01927.x. Epub 2012 Sep 12.


Animal-mediated seed dispersal is important for sustaining biological diversity in forest ecosystems, particularly in the tropics. Forest fragmentation, hunting, and selective logging modify forests in myriad ways and their effects on animal-mediated seed dispersal have been examined in many case studies. However, the overall effects of different types of human disturbance on animal-mediated seed dispersal are still unknown. We identified 35 articles that provided 83 comparisons of animal-mediated seed dispersal between disturbed and undisturbed forests; all comparisons except one were conducted in tropical or subtropical ecosystems. We assessed the effects of forest fragmentation, hunting, and selective logging on seed dispersal of fleshy-fruited tree species. We carried out a meta-analysis to test whether forest fragmentation, hunting, and selective logging affected 3 components of animal-mediated seed dispersal: frugivore visitation rate, number of seeds removed, and distance of seed dispersal. Forest fragmentation, hunting, and selective logging did not affect visitation rate and were marginally associated with a reduction in seed-dispersal distance. Hunting and selective logging, but not fragmentation, were associated with a large reduction in the number of seeds removed. Fewer seeds of large-seeded than of small-seeded tree species were removed in hunted or selectively logged forests. A plausible explanation for the consistently negative effects of hunting and selective logging on large-seeded plant species is that large frugivores, as the predominant seed dispersers for large-seeded plant species, are the first animals to be extirpated from hunted or logged forests. The reduction in forest area after fragmentation appeared to have weaker effects on frugivore communities and animal-mediated seed dispersal than hunting and selective logging. The differential effects of hunting and selective logging on large- and small-seeded tree species underpinned case studies that showed disrupted plant-frugivore interactions could trigger a homogenization of seed traits in tree communities in hunted or logged tropical forests.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Embryophyta / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Chain*
  • Forestry
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Seed Dispersal*