Introduction of mammalian seed predators and the loss of an endemic flightless bird impair seed dispersal of the New Zealand tree Elaeocarpus dentatus
© 2018 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Understanding the mutualistic services provided by species is critical when considering both the consequences of their loss or the benefits of their reintroduction. Like many other Pacific islands, New Zealand seed dispersal networks have been changed by both significant losses of large frugivorous birds and the introduction of invasive mammals. These changes are particularly concerning when important dispersers remain unidentified. We tested the impact of frugivore declines and invasive seed predators on seed dispersal for an endemic tree, hinau Elaeocarpus dentatus, by comparing seed dispersal and predation rates on the mainland of New Zealand with offshore sanctuary islands with higher bird and lower mammal numbers. We used cameras and seed traps to measure predation and dispersal from the ground and canopy, respectively. We found that canopy fruit handling rates (an index of dispersal quantity) were poor even on island sanctuaries (only 14% of seeds captured below parent trees on islands had passed through a bird), which suggests that hinau may be adapted for ground-based dispersal by flightless birds. Ground-based dispersal of hinau was low on the New Zealand mainland compared to sanctuary islands (4% of seeds dispersed on the mainland vs. 76% dispersed on islands), due to low frugivore numbers. A flightless endemic rail (Gallirallus australis) conducted the majority of ground-based fruit removal on islands. Despite being threatened, this rail is controversial in restoration projects because of its predatory impacts on native fauna. Our study demonstrates the importance of testing which species perform important mutualistic services, rather than simply relying on logical assumptions.