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14 December 2016

Versteinerter Wasserfloh...

12 December 2016

Darwins Erben machen Fortschritte: Mit DNA-Barcodes zum Stammbaum des Lebens ...

07 December 2016

Paradise Lost? – Loss of large fruit-eating birds threatens tropical forests ...

24 November 2016

German-Tansanian research project seeks to analyse climate and land use changes on Kilimandscharo...

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28 September 2016

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15 September 2016

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18 August 2016

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20 July 2016

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12 July 2016

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28 June 2016

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16 June 2016

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24 May 2016

Frankfurter Biologin wird Mitglied der Nationalen Akademie der Wissenschaften...

18 April 2016

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24 March 2016

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22 March 2016

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16 February 2016

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15 January 2016

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Press Releases

Paradise Lost? – Loss of large fruit-eating birds threatens tropical forests

Frankfurt/ Germany, December 7th 2016. A new study shows the importance of large fruit-eating birds for the regeneration of tropical forests. Plants with large seeds recruit more seedlings than those with small seeds, but are fragile forest elements because they solely depend on large birds for the dispersal of their seeds. Scientists from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre highlight that the decline of large fruit-eating birds due to hunting and other human pressures is therefore a severe threat for tropical forests.

More than 90 % of tropical trees rely on fruit-eating animals, especially birds, for the dispersal of their seeds. Adding to previous evidence, new research shows that large birds are more important than small and medium-sized birds for plant regeneration. “Especially large fruit-eating birds are declining due to habitat loss and hunting in the tropics. This is likely to cause a poor regeneration of some plant species. It may bring about profound change to the tropical forest as we know it.” warns Marcia Muñoz, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre.

Muñoz and her team conducted a study on fruit removal and seedling recruitment in a tropical forest. It showed that large-bodied bird species weighing up to 1400 grams contributed more to fruit removal than small-bodied species. Large birds have higher energy demands and are able to eat a wider spectrum of fruit sizes than small birds. This relates to another important observation – some large-seeded plants can only be dispersed by large birds.

From the plants' perspective, the scientists found that fruits with small seeds were more frequently eaten than large fruits as they were more accessible to all birds from the forest. "This means if large birds become extinct in a tropical forest, not only the large-seeded plant species, but also the small-seeded plant species lose important dispersers",  says Muñoz.

In the process of forest regeneration, fruit removal is followed by seedling establishment. Plants with large and heavy seeds recruited more seedlings than plants with light seeds. Large-seeded plant species thus compensated their lower dispersal rate because they had a competitive advantage over small-seeded species and could better tolerate low light or other hazardous conditions.

“Our results highlight that plants with large seeds are particularly successful in tropical forests and contribute an important part of their diversity. So if we are to conserve this diversity, we need to protect large fruit-eating animals that are crucial for the maintenance of these ecosystems”, says Matthias Schleuning, a researcher at Senckenberg and senior author of the study.

The study was carried out in two adjacent protected areas of tropical forest on the eastern side of the Colombian Andes. Researchers recorded the removal of about 17,000 fruits by birds and measured the most important characteristics of birds and plants, such as body size or seed mass. In addition, the researchers counted how many seedlings of each plant species established at their study sites.

Press images

Toucan MSchleuning
 Large fruit-eating birds such as the Grey-breasted mountain toucan (Andigena hypoglauca) are crucial for the regeneration of diverse tropical forests. Copyright: Matthias Schleuning, Senckenberg

Cauca Guan MMunoz
One of the most important fruit-eating birds observed by the team was the highly endangered turkey-sized Cauca Guan (Penelope perspicax). Copyright: Marcia Muñoz, Senckenberg

Palmenart Munoz
Fruit removal and seed dispersal of plant taxa with large fruits, such as palms, depend exclusively on large bird species. Copyright: Marcia Muñoz, Senckenberg

Press images may be used at no cost for editorial reporting, provided that the original author’s name is published, as well. The images may only be passed on to third parties in the context of current reporting.


Marcia Carolina Muñoz Neyra Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Tel. +49 (0)69- 7542 1876

Dr. Matthias Schleuning
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Tel. +49 (0)69- 7542 1892

Sabine Wendler
Press officer
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Tel. +49 (0)69 7542 1818


Muñoz, M. C., Schaefer, H. M., Böhning-Gaese, K. and Schleuning, M. (2016), Importance of animal and plant traits for fruit removal and seedling recruitment in a tropical forest. Oikos. doi:10.1111/oik.03547

To study and understand natue with its limitless diversity of living creatures and to preserve and manage it in a sustainable fashion as the basis of life for future generations – this has been the goal of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Senckenberg Nature Research Society) for almost 200 years. This integrative “geobiodiversity research” and the dissemination of research and science are among Senckenberg’s main tasks. Three nature museums in Frankfurt, Görlitz and Dresden display the diversity of life and the earth’s development over millions of years. The Senckenberg Nature Research Society is a member of the Leibniz Association. The Senckenberg Nature Museum in Frankfurt am Main is supported by the City of Frankfurt am Main as well as numerous other partners. Additional information can be found at www.senckenberg.de 

2016 is the Leibniz year. On the occasion of the 370th birthday and the 300-year death anniversary of polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (*7/1/1646 in Leipzig, † 11/14/1716 in Hanover), the Leibniz Association is organizing an extensive topical year. Under the title “The best of all possible worlds” – a Leibniz quote – it brings into focus the diversity and timeliness of the subject matter currently studied by the scientists at the 88 Leibniz institutions across the Federal Republic of Germany. www.beste-welten.de

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