Seed dispersal and establishment of endangered plants on Oceanic Islands: the Janzen-Connell model, and the use of ecological analogues
KeywordsInstitute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
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AbstractBACKGROUND: The Janzen-Connell model states that plant-specific natural enemies may have a disproportionately large negative effect on progeny close to maternal trees. The majority of experimental and theoretical studies addressing the Janzen-Connell model have explored how it can explain existing patterns of species diversity in tropical mainland areas. Very few studies have investigated how the model's predictions apply to isolated oceanic islands, or to the conservation management of endangered plants. Here, we provide the first experimental investigation of the predictions of the Janzen-Connell model on an oceanic island, in a conservation context. In addition, we experimentally evaluate the use of ecological analogue animals to resurrect the functional component of extinct frugivores that could have dispersed seeds away from maternal trees. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In Mauritius, we investigated seed germination and seedling survival patterns of the critically endangered endemic plant Syzygium mamillatum (Myrtaceae) in relation to proximity to maternal trees. We found strong negative effects of proximity to maternal trees on growth and survival of seedlings. We successfully used giant Aldabran tortoises as ecological analogues for extinct Mauritian frugivores. Effects of gut-passage were negative at the seed germination stage, but seedlings from gut-passed seeds grew taller, had more leaves, and suffered less damage from natural enemies than any of the other seedlings. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: We provide the first experimental evidence of a distance-dependent Janzen-Connell effect on an oceanic island. Our results potentially have serious implications for the conservation management of rare plant species on oceanic islands, which harbour a disproportionately large fraction of the world's endemic and endangered plants. Furthermore, in contrast to recent controversy about the use of non-indigenous extant megafauna for re-wilding projects in North America and elsewhere, we argue that Mauritius and other oceanic islands are ideal study systems in which to empirically explore the use of ecological analogue species in restoration ecology.