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Journal Article

Defensive fruit metabolites obstruct seed dispersal by altering bat behavior and physiology at multiple temporal scales


Dechmann,  Dina K. N.
Department of Migration, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Max Planck Society;

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Baldwin, J. W., Dechmann, D. K. N., Thies, W., & Whitehead, S. R. (2020). Defensive fruit metabolites obstruct seed dispersal by altering bat behavior and physiology at multiple temporal scales. Ecology, 101(2): e02937. doi:10.1002/ecy.2937.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-DCEB-B
The paradoxical presence of toxic chemical compounds in ripe fruits represents a balance between plant enemies and allies: chemical traits can defend seeds against antagonistic herbivores, seed predators, or fungal pathogens, but also can impose costs by repelling mutualistic seed dispersers, although the costs are often difficult to quantify. Seeds gain fitness benefits from traveling far from the parent plant, as they can escape from parental competition and elude specialized herbivores as well as pathogens that accumulate on adult plants. However, seeds are difficult to follow from their parent plant to their final destination. Thus, little is known about the factors that determine seed dispersal distance. We investigated this potential cost of fruit secondary compounds, reduced seed dispersal distance, by combining two data sets from previous work on a Neotropical bat-plant dispersal system (bats in the genus Carollia and plants in the genus Piper). We used data from captive behavioral experiments, which show how amides in ripe fruits of Piper decrease the retention time of seeds and alter food choices. With new analyses, we show that these defensive secondary compounds also delay the time of fruit removal. Next, with a behaviorally annotated bat telemetry data set, we quantified post-feeding movements (i.e., seed dispersal distances). Using generalized additive mixed models we found that seed dispersal distances varied nonlinearly with gut retention times as well as with the time of fruit removal. By interrogating the model predictions, we identified two novel mechanisms by which fruit secondary compounds can impose costs in terms of decreased seed dispersal distances: (1) small-scale reductions in gut retention time and (2) causing fruits to forgo advantageous bat activity peaks that confer high seed dispersal distances.