Variation in bird taxonomic distinctness, but not body mass or niche overlap, explains the robustness of Neotropical seed dispersal networks
Frugivory and seed dispersal are fundamental ecological processes for the maintenance and conservation of tropical forest areas and ecosystem resilience. Here we investigated factors that could affect the relationship between frugivorous birds and fruit consumption, such as body mass, niche relationships, and species taxonomic groups, and the effects of such factors on the robustness of mutualistic bird–plant interaction networks. More specifically, we used Horn–Morisita niche overlap, the body mass coefficient of variation, and the variation in taxonomic distinctness index (varTD) as explanatory variables, and we applied multiple linear regression to test the that increased robustness in bird–plant frugivory networks occurs where birds have larger trophic niche overlaps and lower body mass variations and decreased robustness where they are more taxonomically diverse, in response to less functional redundancy. The analysis was based on literature data and fecal samples of birds collected after mist netting procedures. Bird body mass and niche overlap did not explain the variation in robustness in seed dispersal networks. However, different from expected, the results showed an effect of variations in taxonomic distinctness, suggesting that the larger the taxonomic distinctness of birds in a frugivore assemblage, the larger the robustness of the networks. Some hypotheses were suggested to explain this effect. Regardless of the factors that lead varTD to favor the robustness of mutualistic bird–plant networks, the results demonstrated that conserving diversity above the species level, and not just species limited to a few taxonomic groups, can be an important strategy for ecosystem conservation over time.