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Toucans & Trees

June 17, 2013

When large animals like toucans are removed from tropical rainforests, the trees suffer.



Toucans and climate change. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Toucans are unmistakable symbols of the South American rainforest. But hundreds of thousands of the charismatic birds disappear from the Amazon jungle every year due to deforestation, hunting, and the pet trade. Now, scientists think the removal of the large birds is taking a toll on the forests themselves. According to biologist Mauro Galetti of the State University of São Paulo in Brazil, toucans help the forest regenerate itself by eating large palm seeds, spreading them to new areas. He and his colleagues have found that wherever the large birds have been eliminated, the seeds get smaller.

MAURO GALETTI (State University of São Paulo, Brazil):

Because the small birds, they cannot swallow large fruits with large seeds.


He says smaller seeds are weaker, and don’t grow as well as large ones. What’s more, smaller seeds are more likely to dry out due to drought brought on by climate change. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society. 


Toucans are important seed dispersers in the Amazon rainforest. (Jupiter Images)