Golden lion tamarins play key role in seed dispersal in Brazil's Mata Atlantica

August 10, 2009

Golden lion tamarins play an important role in seed dispersal in Brazil's Mata Atlantica, report researchers writing in the the journal Tropical Conservation Science.

Tracking seeds defecating by tamarians in the highly endangered Atlantic Forest in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Marina Janzantti Lapenta and Paula Procópio-de-Oliveira found that a quarter of the 88 species of plants consumed by golden lion tamarins germinated and reached juvenile stages over the course of their experiment, suggesting that the primate is playing an important role in forest recovery in areas where it has been reintroduced.

"[Golden lion tamarins] disperse large numbers of seeds, time of seed retention in the gut is relatively long for seeds to be moved at variable distances from their origin and habitat of seed deposition is diverse," write the authors. "The golden lion tamarins use secondary forest, forest edges and forest interior while foraging for fruits. This behavior is responsible for a flow of seeds between habitat types. In this way the golden lion tamarins and other frugivores that disperse seeds contribute to the regeneration of the Atlantic Forest."

"The extinction of the golden lion tamarins from many forest fragments where they originally occurred can be correlated with the impoverishment of these areas in terms of forest regeneration," they continue. "The reintroduced population of golden lion tamarins established in the União Reserve through translocation, seems to be contributing, through the dispersal of seeds, to the improvement in the general habitat quality of the area, to the enrichment of degraded areas deep inside the Reserve, and to the regeneration of forest edges."

The Mata Atlântica now covers 102,012 square kilometers, or less than 8 percent of its original extent. Logging and conversion for agriculture and cattle ranches have been the primary drivers of deforestation of the Mata Atlântica, which is found in some of Brazil's richest and most populous states.

The Mata Atlântica ecosystem has been recognized by scientists as a global biodiversity hotspot for its wealth of plants and animals.

Lapenta, M. J. and Procópio-de-Oliveira, P. 2009. The Fate of Seeds Dispersed by Golden Lion Tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) in an Atlantic Forest Fragment, Brazil. Tropical Conservation Science Vol.2 (3):266-281

mongabay.com (August 10, 2009).

Golden lion tamarins play key role in seed dispersal in Brazil's Mata Atlantica.