Research ArticleECOLOGY

Defaunation precipitates the extinction of evolutionarily distinct interactions in the Anthropocene

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  19 Jun 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 6, eaav6699
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav6699

Abstract

Species on Earth are interconnected with each other through ecological interactions. Defaunation can erode those connections, yet we lack evolutionary predictions about the consequences of losing interactions in human-modified ecosystems. We quantified the fate of the evolutionary history of avian–seed dispersal interactions across tropical forest fragments by combining the evolutionary distinctness of the pairwise-partner species, a proxy to their unique functional features. Both large-seeded plant and large-bodied bird species showed the highest evolutionary distinctness. We estimate a loss of 3.5 to 4.7 × 104 million years of cumulative evolutionary history of interactions due to defaunation. Bird-driven local extinctions mainly erode the most evolutionarily distinct interactions. However, the persistence of less evolutionarily distinct bird species in defaunated areas exerts a phylogenetic rescue effect through seed dispersal of evolutionarily distinct plant species.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text