The role of lemur seed dispersal in restoring degraded forest ecosystems in Madagascar
Anthropogenic disturbances lead to the degradation or destruction of tropical forests, with negative consequences for flora, fauna, and local people. Restoration plantings may compensate these impacts, but time and financial expenditures are high. Thus, priority is often given to plantations of a few introduced species that have little value for conservation. Animal seed dispersal may diversify and accelerate regeneration of restoration plantings, thereby lowering their costs. We studied seed dispersal quantity and quality of crowned lemurs (Eulemur coronatus) in a highly degraded forest in northern Madagascar, conducting behavioural observations and germination experiments and describing dispersed plant species’ characteristics. Crowned lemurs were highly frugivorous, dispersing a large number of seeds and plant species. While there were negative effects of gut passage on germination, the positive effects of pulp removal outweighed these, resulting in an overall positive effect on regeneration. Our study confirmed that effects of gut passage are dependent on the dispersed plant species. We found 20 plant species, including three threatened with extinction, whose only dispersers in Oronjia seem to be crowned lemurs. We conclude that lemurs play important roles in protecting plant species and maintaining healthy ecosystems through seed dispersal, and that E. coronatus is a key species in this respect. In addition, if lemurs were included in restoration, they would disperse a diversity of plant species that cannot be matched by conventional restoration plantings. Their influence would facilitate the regeneration of some, but not all plant species. Negative effects, like the spread of invasive species through seed dispersal by lemurs, must also be considered.