Habitat use and resource tracking by African Ceratogymna hornbills: implications for seed dispersal and forest conservation
Smith, Thomas B.
Whitney, Kenneth D.
Conservation of tropical forests requires an understanding of the seasonal patterns of abundance and distribution of important seed dispersers. In the forests of Central Africa, three species of hornbills in the genus Ceratogymna (Aves: Bucerotidae) provide dispersal for over 50 species of trees and lianas, yet their ecology is poorly known. We present the first empirical evidence for resource tracking and large-scale movements by two of these species, which were previously considered resident. Hornbill numbers and fruit production were estimated over a one-year period in the Dja Reserve, Cameroon. Monthly abundances of C. atrata and C. cylindricus varied four- and 12-fold, respectively, and were predicted by community fruit availability as measured by fruitfall on a 4·3 km trail. In contrast, C. fistulator abundances varied little and were not related to fruit availability. Synchronous population fluctuations in sites 22 km distant were observed for atrata and cylindricus, but not for fistulator. Together, these results indicate that atrata and cylindricus populations track fruit resources via seasonal emigrations, while the fistulator population appears to be relatively sedentary. Comparisons of hornbill densities in primary and secondary forests suggest that they are important dispersers in both habitats, and will likely play larger roles in central African forest regeneration as more vulnerable seed dispersers are removed by hunting. If large seasonal movements of hornbills turn out to be a general phenomenon, effective management of central African forest reserves will require greater emphasis on reserve connectivity and on seasonal and spatial patterns of fruit production.
forest conservation; seed dispersal; Ceratogymna; rain forest