The restoration of tropical seed dispersal networks
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Human activities have led to the loss of habitats and biodiversity in the Atlantic Rain Forest in Brazil. Ecological restoration aims to rebuild this biome and should include not only the reinstatement of species but also the reestablishment of complex ecological interactions and the ecological functions that they provide. One such function is seed dispersal, which is provided by the interactions between animal frugivores and plants. We studied seed dispersal networks in 3 different tropical forest sites restored 15, 25, and 57 years ago; temporal scales rarely observed in restoration studies. We investigated changes in network structure (nestedness, modularity, and network specialization) in these communities over restoration time. Although network size and the number of interactions increased with time since restoration, the networks were composed of generalist birds, and the large frugivores remained absent. Contrary to our expectations though, species richness was highest in the 25-year-old site, maybe due to the higher number of species used in the planting. Nestedness values were low in all 3 networks, but the highest nestedness was observed in the intermediate-aged site. However, the oldest network was significantly modular and showed higher complementary specialization. These results suggest that 57 years after restoration, the complexity of mutualistic interactions in seed dispersal networks has increased, this enhancing ecosystem function in the Atlantic forest.