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.
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.