Seed Dispersal of the Palm Syagrus romanzoffiana by Tapirs in the Semi-deciduous Atlantic Forest of Argentina
Vertebrates play a fundamental role in the dispersal of Neotropical trees, generating different seed shadows according to their physical and behavioral features. Tapirs are capable of consuming great quantities of large fruits, and they defecate seeds far from parent trees. For instance, intact seeds of the palm Syagrus romanzoffiana have been found in tapir dung piles in the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil, suggesting that tapirs effectively disperse this species. However, recruitment was not examined therein. We studied tapir endozoochory of large and medium seeds in the semi-deciduous Atlantic Forest of Argentina by examining dung piles found within Iguazu National Park. We recorded dung-pile positions to evaluate the spatial distribution. We also counted the number of juveniles in 2 x 2 m quadrats placed on old dung piles in latrines, beneath adults and in random sites to estimate recruitment levels. Syagrus romanzoffiana seeds were present in 98 percent of dung piles, averaging > 200 seeds/dung pile, indicating that this species constitutes the main fruit component in the tapir's diet. Dung piles showed a clumped deposition pattern reflecting the use of latrines. Juvenile recruitment in latrines was 21 times higher than that of under-adult sites and 500 times greater than in random sites, and correlated with the frequency of use of the areas. We concluded that the lowland tapir is a major disperser of S. romanzoffiana. Given that this palm can be considered a keystone species, a disruption of this interaction might affect the entire community of frugivores in the long term.