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Bird-epiphyte interactions in three Atlantic Forest environments in southeastern Brazil

Rafael Ferreira Boechat, Bianca Ferreira da Silva, André Felippe Nunes-Freitas


Epiphytes reach up to 67% of the total plant species richness in some tropical areas and act as diverse food resources that can be crucial in times of food scarcity. The avifauna assists in their reproduction, either through pollination or seed dispersal, thus creating a vast interaction spectrum between both communities within a continuous ecological process. Few scientific studies concerning avian and epiphytic community interactions are available and not much is known on their specific relationships. However, their absence can change existing ecological processes in habitats. With this in mind, a study undertaken at the Reserva Ecológica do Guapiaçu, Cachoeiras de Macacu, RJ analyzed bird and epiphytic interactions in three different environments: forest, fragmented forest and pastureland. The aim was to study how these interactions can vary according to their degree of conservation and successional stage. Three observation points were marked in a forest, nine points in forest fragments and ten observation points in the pastureland, thus providing a total of 1056 observation hours. As a result, 643 avian and epiphytic interactions were registered. We tested differences in the number of interactions between the areas. The initial hypothesis was that the largest number of registered interactions would occur in the preserved forest given its preserved state and existing biodiversity; however, the pasture area presented the highest number and variety of interactions. Most of the birds observed in the different habitats presented a high interaction in pasture areas where resource availability is reduced, making epiphytes an important food supply. Epiphytes permit avaluable network of interactions by attracting a high diversity of birds, especially those that disperse fruit or pollinate flowers, illustrating their importance within a degraded environment. 

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