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Long-term collapse in fruit availability threatens Central African forest megafauna

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Science  04 Dec 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6521, pp. 1219-1222
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc7791

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Fruit decline threatens forest elephants

Large mammal herbivores in African tropical forests are major consumers of fruit, and many tree species rely on these consumers for dispersal of their seeds. Bush et al. monitored fruit production over three decades in a protected national park in Gabon, showing an 80% decline across the 73 plant species monitored. At the same time, photographic records of forest elephants over the past decade indicate a substantial decline in body condition in these major herbivores. These results suggest that the capacity of the ecosystem to support the elephant population is decreasing, a worrying prospect in an environment that is still protected from other threats such as hunting and deforestation.

Science, this issue p. 1219

Abstract

Afrotropical forests host much of the world’s remaining megafauna, although these animals are confined to areas where direct human influences are low. We used a rare long-term dataset of tree reproduction and a photographic database of forest elephants to assess food availability and body condition of an emblematic megafauna species at Lopé National Park, Gabon. Our analysis reveals an 81% decline in fruiting over a 32-year period (1986–2018) and an 11% decline in body condition of fruit-dependent forest elephants from 2008 to 2018. Fruit famine in one of the last strongholds for African forest elephants should raise concern about the ability of this species and other fruit-dependent megafauna to persist in the long term, with potential consequences for broader ecosystem and biosphere functioning.

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