Forests Without Primates: primate/plant Codependency

Am J Primatol. 1998;45(1):127-41. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2345(1998)45:1<127::AID-AJP9>3.0.CO;2-Y.


Detailed studies of primates and fruiting trees have illustrated that these groups of organisms are involved in a very complex set of interactions, with primates relying on fruiting trees as important food resources and fruiting trees relying on frugivores for seed dispersal. Human activities that influence either primate seed dispersal or fruit production have the potential of having unanticipated effects on the other interactants. Here we evaluate what is known and what we still need to learn to evaluate the long-term consequences of disrupting the interactions between primates and tropical forest trees. We do this by first assessing the potential importance of primates at dispersing the seeds of tropical forest trees. Second, we consider possible consequences of hunting primates on recruitment in tropical tree communities. Third, we address the converse by considering the impacts of decreasing resource availability for primates through either logging or through the extraction of nontimber forest products. Finally, we provide a case study from Kibale National Park, Uganda, that contrasts seedling recruitment in 20 forest fragments in which primate seed dispersers have been dramatically reduced with seedling recruitment in areas that have an intact frugivore community. In comparison to the intact forest, the fragments had lower seedling density and fewer species of seedlings. Furthermore, a greater proportion of the seedlings were from small-seeded species that might not require primates for their dispersal, since they probably can be dispersed by small birds. All of these considerations suggest that disrupting the complex interactions between primates and fruiting trees can potentially have negative and possibly cascading effects on ecosystem processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Primates*
  • Seeds*
  • Uganda