Mistletoes, locust bean bushes and birds work collectively in Nigeria’s forest ecology

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Mistletoes are discovered in a variety of forest ecosystems. As parasites, they’re a captivating group of vegetation. They get their vitamin from host vegetation and are ecosystem engineers, making an affect alongside meals chains.

They have an effect on inhabitants dynamics, variety, and distributions of different vegetation in addition to invertebrates, birds and mammals. Their broad geographic distributions, and their lengthy and distinctive flowering and fruiting intervals, make them a horny useful resource for wildlife. The fruit and nectar are meals for birds, which additionally nest and roost on the plant, offering pollination and seed dispersal providers within the course of.

In West Africa, mistletoes are discovered on many indigenous bushes and a number of other tree crops of financial significance. These hosts embody shea, neem, candy orange, cocoa, rubber and the African locust bean tree.

The African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa) is considered an necessary tree crop, used for drugs and meals. The bushes additionally play a worthwhile function in nutrient biking by fixing atmospheric nitrogen in soils. They’re vulnerable to mistletoe an infection and agroforestry managers normally eradicate the parasitic plant.

But when mistletoes present meals and shelter for species which might be significantly necessary in an ecosystem, then eradicating them won’t be a great technique.

We due to this fact investigated a side of mistletoe’s ecological advantages that was not effectively researched. We studied how birds use mistletoes that develop on P. biglobosa in Amurum Forest Reserve, Nigeria, throughout its mosaic of habitats.

We recorded all visits by birds to bushes with mistletoe: after they visited, how lengthy they spent within the bushes and the way they behaved. As predicted, Tapinanthus dodoneifolius mistletoes on P. biglobosa have been an necessary supplier of meals and shelter for birds. As well as, the ecological function of this mistletoe on P. biglobosa in instances of meals shortage, particularly within the dry season, seems necessary.

This broader understanding of mistletoe significance and ecology might inform any motion within the administration of African locust bean forests, and in conservation.

Our analysis

We carried out our research in Amurum Forest Reserve in Jos, Plateau State, central Nigeria. The reserve has three main habitat varieties, differing in plant species. It has about 278 chook species, 31% of the entire recorded in Nigeria. This makes it one among Nigeria’s biodiversity hotspots.

A few of the plant species, together with P. biglobosa, within the reserve host mistletoes, hooked up to their stem as parasites. The locust bean bushes within the research space are contaminated by three mistletoe species: Tapinanthus dodoneifolius, T. bangwensis and T. sesselifolius.

Solely T. dodoneifolius was fruiting throughout our research, so we solely noticed birds visiting this species.

The Amurum Forest Reserve had a comparatively excessive density of mistletoe-infected P. biglobosa bushes. Of 663 bushes, 398 (60%) have been parasitised with T. dodoneifolius mistletoes and 265 (40%) weren’t. Ninety-four (14.2%) of the entire variety of bushes have been recorded within the rocky habitat, with 49 contaminated and 45 non-infected. Seventy-one (10.7%) of the entire have been within the gallery forest, with 59 contaminated and 12 non-infected. We recorded 498 (75.1%) of the entire within the savanna, with 290 contaminated and 208 non-infected.

In 432 hours of observations, we recorded 725 particular person birds, comprising 71 species, and belonging to 31 households and 4 orders, visiting each the locust bean bushes and their related T. dodoneifolius mistletoes. Fruit eaters, insect eaters, nectar feeders and omnivores all visited mistletoe flowers or fruits on the locust bean bushes. A complete of 352 particular person chook visits (from 54 species) have been recorded immediately on the mistletoes.

The speed of mistletoe an infection on the bushes in our research didn’t differ considerably throughout habitat varieties. This means that the chance of an infection doesn’t rely on habitat sort however may be associated to host plant high quality, host availability and chook behaviour.

Hen use of mistletoes on locust bean bushes

Our findings corroborate the host high quality speculation: mistletoes favour nitrogen-fixing and leguminous vegetation as hosts.

Hen species in our research had comparable possibilities of accessing all habitat varieties. Subsequently, they might transfer seeds from one habitat to a different to an obtainable host. This helps bigger numbers of birds and will increase the possibilities that the mistletoe and the host plant’s fruits will likely be dispersed.

The variety of mistletoes on the host plant additionally determines birds’ preferences for specific bushes (measured as time spent by birds on vegetation in a tree), as present in different research. Birds have been drawn to a dense build-up of berries of T. dodoneifolius mistletoes on the host and tended to spend so much of time feeding on them, thereby enhancing dispersal. Mistletoes don’t all produce fruit or ripen on the identical time. Fruit dispersers due to this fact discover their fruit reward obtainable all 12 months spherical in some species or at instances of normal meals shortage.

We noticed that the peak of the host tree and the variety of mistletoes on it influenced the chook exercise. Other than consuming fruit, we additionally noticed birds perching, pecking, and foraging on bugs, seeds, leaves, and nectar on each the mistletoe and host. This advantages the chook, mistletoe and host.

Implications of our findings

Our research supported the thought we began with – that T. dodoneifolius mistletoes on locust bean bushes are a keystone producer, based mostly on the chook species use and visitation. Keystone producers are species which have a big affect or affect on the ecosystem. These mistletoes on the bushes seem to have an necessary function in instances of meals shortage, particularly within the dry season. They’re necessary sources for birds within the reserve.

Understanding relationships like these might help determine crucial sources and potential keystone species to tell conservation planning. Reforestation programmes ought to contemplate the parasitic relationship between mistletoes and their hosts and their ecological advantages for chook variety, fruit dispersal and pollination, and in the end ecosystem stability.


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