Specialist frugivores are the dominant consumers of mistletoe fruit in many regions and have been shown to intensify infections of host plants as a result of their rapid gut passage rates and dependence on existing infections. The role of specialist frugivores in long distance dispersal of mistletoe and establishment of new infections is unclear, and has not been explicitly evaluated previously. Here we critically examine the premise that specialists are the dominant dispersers by examining the role of an Australian mistletoe specialist (mistletoebird Dicaeum hirundinaceum Dicaeidae) in dispersing mistletoe (Amyema preissii Santalales: Loranthaceae) seeds beyond infected host stands. We use two primary lines of evidence - presence of birds using remote call recorders, and presence of dispersed seeds via surveys for defecated seeds on host branches. The observed and inferred movements of the mistletoebird were wholly restricted to habitat patches containing mistletoe, and this bird was not observed to transport seeds to nearby uninfected host stands within the study system. While mistletoe specialists may provide much of the within-stand dispersal service for mistletoes, this serves only to aggregate and intensify existing infections. We suggest that long distance dispersal of mistletoe seeds beyond existing hosts and infection centres is not performed by these dietary specialists, these services more likely to be provided by generalist frugivores and other occasional mistletoe fruit consumers.
Field of Research
060208 Terrestrial Ecology
Socio Economic Objective
960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity