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Primate Dispersal of a Classically Bird-Dispersed Fruiting Tree: The Case of Virola calophylla (Myristicaceae) in Peru.

Department of Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution
University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA.

Bird-dispersed fruits are classically characterized as having red, purple, or black coloration, and primate-dispersed fruits as being yellow, orange, or brown. These categorizations, however, may be misleading, especially when applied to plant taxa whose patterns of frugivory and seed dispersal have not been well investigated. We document patterns of frugivory and seed dispersal in Virola calophylla (Myristicaceae) in Manú National Park, Perú and compare our results with studies of V. surinamenesis and V. sebifera in Panama. With a bright red aril that is easily detached from a medium to large sized seed, Virola species fit the bird-dispersed fruit syndrome. I observed ten focal trees for a total of more than 360 observation hours to relate visitation and seed removal by frugivores and dispersers to morphological and phenological characteristics of individual trees. Spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus) appear to play a much more important role in seed dispersal of V. calophylla in Peru, in contrast with the congeners studied in Panama. Although 15 species of birds in 6 families removed seeds from V. calophylla, bird visitation was generally low. A. paniscus was the most frequent visitor and was responsible for the majority of documented seed removal events. Among avian frugivores, birds in the 6 families had equal probabilities of making a feeding visit and removed seeds at equal frequencies. Six species of Ramphastidae and two Cracidae were the most consistent visitors and removed the most seeds. The extensive primate dispersal of this bird-dispersed fruit suggests a need to re-evaluate existing theoretical frameworks, especially the criteria used to categorize bird vs. primate dispersal syndromes.