Frugivory specialization in birds and fruit chemistry structure mutualistic networks across the neotropics

Marco A. Pizo, Juan M. Morales, Otso Ovaskainen, Tomás A. Carlo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The interaction between fruit chemistry and the physiological traits of frugivores is expected to shape the structure of mutualistic seed dispersal networks, but it has been understudied compared with the role of morphological trait matching in structuring interaction patterns. For instance, highly frugivorous birds (i.e., birds that have fruits as the main component of their diets), which characteristically have fast gut passage times, are expected to avoid feeding on lipid-rich fruits because of the long gut retention times associated with lipid digestion. Here, we compiled data from 84 studies conducted in the Neotropics that used focal plant methods to record 35,815 feeding visits made by 317 bird species (155 genera in 28 families) to 165 plant species (82 genera in 48 families). We investigated the relationship between the degree of frugivory of birds (i.e., how much of their diet is composed of fruit) at the genus level and their visits to plant genera that vary in fruit lipid content. We used a hierarchical modeling of species communities approach that accounted for the effects of differences in body size, bird and plant phy-logeny, and spatial location of study sites. We found that birds with a low degree of frugivory (e.g., predominantly insectivores) tend to have the highest increase in visitation rates as fruits become more lipid rich, while birds that are more frugivorous tend to increase visits at a lower rate or even decrease visitation rates as lipids increase in fruits. This balance between degree of frugivory and visitation rates to lipid-poor and lipid-rich fruits provides a mechanism to explain specialized dispersal systems and the occurrence of certain physiological nutritional filters, ultimately helping us to understand community-wide interaction patterns between birds and plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-249
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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