Data from: Spatial heterogeneity of a parasitic plant drives the seed-dispersal pattern of a zoochorous plant community in a generalist dispersal system
Mellado, Ana; Zamora, Regino (2016), Data from: Spatial heterogeneity of a parasitic plant drives the seed-dispersal pattern of a zoochorous plant community in a generalist dispersal system, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3m342
Biota plays a central role as sources of spatial heterogeneity, having great potential to define ecological processes and patterns in the landscape. Mistletoes are fleshy-fruited parasitic plants that dwell in forest canopies showing a strong aggregated spatial distribution. Parasitized trees potentially concentrate frugivore activity on their canopy, where birds find food, places to perch and protection against predators. Thus, seed-deposition patterns generated from the canopy are expected to reflect the heterogeneity associated with the parasite. This becomes especially important in generalist dispersal systems; however, so far, we do not know the implications of mistletoe spatial heterogeneity on the seed-dispersal pattern of other plants with which they simultaneously fruit. In a Mediterranean pineland, we analyse the impact of Viscum album subsp. austriacum on the seed-deposition pattern of a zoochorous plant community, taking into consideration the spatial and temporal variability of environmental factors influencing the frugivore's habitat use, such as fruit availability and forest tree density. For four consecutive years, we studied 55 pairs of trees parasitized and unparasitized by mistletoe, analysing zoochorous fruit availability, frugivore visits and the zoochorous seed rain in selected trees. As expected, frugivorous birds responded to mistletoe heterogeneity by visiting parasitized trees preferentially to unparasitized ones, generating a differential deposition of mistletoe seeds on tree branches while dispersing seeds of co-fruiting species under the host canopy. Availability of understory fruits remained similar in patches of parasitized and unparasitized trees, but showed strong temporal fluctuations reflected in the seed rain. On the other hand, mistletoe proved more copious in patches of parasitized trees and their fruit crops varied little between years, making mistletoes reliable food resources likely to lead to consistency in fruit-deposition patterns. In conclusion, mistletoes, by patchily growing on the canopy layer and concentrating zoochorous seeds underneath, can shape the spatial seed-deposition pattern of fleshy-fruited plants in the forest. Moreover, as seeds constantly reach the same deposition sites over long periods, the soil beneath the host canopy could become hotspots for community regeneration. In degraded areas, such mistletoe effects might be critical, possibly promoting recolonization and vegetation recovery through the frugivore's activity.