Neotropical Anachronisms: The Fruits the Gomphotheres Ate

Science  01 Jan 1982:
Vol. 215, Issue 4528, pp. 19-27
DOI: 10.1126/science.215.4528.19


Frugivory by extinct horses, gomphotheres, ground sloths, and other Pleistocene megafauna offers a key to understanding certain plant reproductive traits in Central American lowland forests. When over 15 genera of Central American large herbivores became extinct roughly 10,000 years ago, seed dispersal and subsequent distributions of many plant species were altered. Introduction of horses and cattle may have in part restored the local ranges of such trees as jicaro (Crescentia alata) and guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) that had large mammals as dispersal agents. Plant distributions in neotropical forest and grassland mixes that are moderately and patchily browsed by free-ranging livestock may be more like those before megafaunal extinction than were those present at the time of Spanish conquest.

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