Shifting Baselines

Fruits That Gomphotheres Ate

Avocados and Osage Oranges only make sense in the light of megafauna. That is because American gomphotheres (related to elephants) and ground sloths ate and dispersed those large-seeded fruits. While those megafauna went extinct around 10,000 years ago, many large-seeded plants in the Americas are still around today. If those plants once relied on those large creatures to disperse their seeds, why have they not gone they way of the dispersers? Three ecologists have gotten us one step closer to understanding why.

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In a paper published in the open-access journal PLOS One, Drs. Guimarães, Galetti, and Jordano investigate the ecology of about 100 large-seeded plants that were once dispersed by megafauna. The authors conclude that many large-seeded plant species, that once relied on bygone American elephants and compadres, now rely on present-day small and medium-sized mammals such as primates, tapirs, along with pigs and cows, for seed dispersal and regeneration. They warn that the fast-paced decline of those animals in many forests today poses a serious threat for these unique plant species.

Where’s a gomphothere when you need one?

Visit PLOS One for a copy of the article.

Comments

  1. #1 Coturnix
    April 2, 2008

    You can send a trackback if you want (will make me happy)… ;-)

  2. #2 doug l
    April 2, 2008

    Very good observations here, Josh. I only wish those who stood opposed to the introduction of megafauna proxies were more aware of the critical role those now missing pieces of the system actually played, and could understand that the desire to see these proxies is not simply an impractical and impossibly romanticized vision of a new pleistocene but a desire to see the system up to its potential. Cheers.
    P.S….I love those osage oranges; really marvelous trees and I’d always wondered how their fruit was part of it strategy for reproduction.

  3. #3 Christopher Taylor
    April 2, 2008

    As usual, the authors of this paper on fruit dispersed by “extinct megafauna” have forgotten about bears, which have a large proportion of plant matter in their diet, and would be quite capable of eating such fruit. Bears have also survived over the areas inhabited by such plants until much more recently than other megafauna.

  4. #4 Jennifer L. Jacquet
    April 7, 2008

    This is an awesome example of co-evolution just as I am a good example of how baselines shift–I was always wondering why avocado seeds were so dang big…

  5. #5 Dr. Octoploid
    April 9, 2008

    I saw a seminar once, a decade ago or so, where a guy explained why he believed apples had originally involved to have their seeds dispersed primarily by bears. I can’t remember the reasoning now, but it seemed sensible at the time.

  6. #6 Eric Husher
    January 12, 2009

    I read an article recently involving the release/escape of several hippopotamus from a private zoo in Columbia that was owned by a cocaine drug lord… The drug lord was killed by the police, and the hippos escaped into the jungle. Since that time, the hippos have been reproducing, and there now about 20 of them in the Columbian Jungle, living much like the ancient Gomphotheres, and presumably with a similar environmental impact (snuffling up avocados, etc). If they are not eventually hunted down and killed off, perhaps the hippos will soon fill the shoes of the extinct Gomphotheres……!

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  9. #9 orjin
    December 25, 2009

    This is an awesome example of co-evolution just as I am a good example of how baselines shift–I was always wondering why avocado seeds were so dang big…

  10. #10 oyun
    January 4, 2010

    I read an article recently involving the release/escape of several hippopotamus from a private zoo in Columbia that was owned by a cocaine drug lord… The drug lord was killed by the police, and the hippos escaped into the jungle.

  11. #11 video game
    January 4, 2010

    I have not eaten the fruit, I am interested in

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    August 13, 2010

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  13. #13 komik videolar
    August 13, 2010

    I saw a seminar once, a decade ago or so, where a guy explained why he believed apples had originally involved to have their seeds dispersed primarily by bears. I can’t remember the reasoning now, but it seemed sensible at the time.

  14. #14 yazgülü
    August 9, 2011

    Thank You Admin.

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