Data from: Competition, seed dispersal, and hunting: what drives germination and seedling survival in an Afrotropical forest?
Olsson, Ola et al. (2019), Data from: Competition, seed dispersal, and hunting: what drives germination and seedling survival in an Afrotropical forest?, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.48b2dd0
Disentangling the contributions of different processes that influence plant recruitment, such as competition and seed dispersal, is important given the increased human-mediated changes in tropical forest ecosystems. Previous studies have shown that seedling communities in an Afro-tropical rainforest in Southeastern Nigeria are strongly affected by the loss of important seed dispersing primates, including Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes elioti), and drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus). Here we study how germination and survival of tree seedlings are affected by competition and reduced seed-dispersal in three contiguous forest reserves, in Southeastern Nigeria, with similar mature tree species composition and structure. We use an experimental design aimed at manipulating the effect of competition among seedlings in three protected and three hunted sites within the reserves. We use a total of sixty 5×5 m plots of three types: plots cleared of all seedlings, plots selectively cleared of all primate-dispersed seedlings and control plots. All seedlings were identified, measured, assigned to dispersal mode, and tagged, and after one year we evaluated survival, mortality and new recruits. We found that in hunted sites germination of abiotically dispersed species was over four times higher in cleared plots compared to control plots, whereas germination of primate dispersed species was the same, which indicated that dispersal limitation was the dominant force in seedling recruitment in hunted sites. This was supported by the fact that the germination of all dispersal modes in the selectively cleared plots in protected sites was similar to the control plots in the same sites, but germination of abiotically dispersed species was significantly lower than in cleared plots in hunted sites. Competition among seedlings was mostly evident from the fact that 75% more seedlings of primate dispersed species germinated in cleared compared to control plots in protected sites. We conclude that inter-seedling competition may be irrelevant to seedling recruitment in hunted sites, where dispersal limitation appears to be a much stronger force shaping the seedling plant community, and thus hunting indirectly reverses the importance of competition and dispersal limitation in structuring seedling communities.