Intertwined effects of defaunation, increased tree mortality and density compensation on seed dispersal.
Contemporary defaunation has profound ecological consequences ranging from local or even global co-extinctions of interacting species to the loss of ecosystem functions and services critical for humanity. Other components of global change (climate change, introduced pests, land use changes) are also harming ecosystem functioning by augmenting tree mortality worldwide. Defaunation and increased tree mortality often coincide in many human-altered ecosystems but whether they interact, leading to non-additive effects on ecosystem functioning, remains largely unknown. However, under some ecological circumstances, the decline or extirpation of one species due to defaunation can be neutralized by increases in the abundance of some functionally similar species (i.e. 'density compensation'). We combined long-term field data with individual-based modelling to investigate the potential interactive effects of seed disperser loss, increased tree mortality and density compensation on seed dispersal in a heterogeneous landscape. Our simulation experiments showed that both stressors markedly limit not only the quantity of seed dispersal but also its quality since the impact on seed dispersal strongly varied among habitat types that differ strikingly in suitability for tree establishment. Density compensation had a marked positive effect on seed dispersal which, however, was largely limited under increased tree mortality. The combined negative effects of defaunation and increased tree mortality on seed dispersal were lower than the expected additive effect. This highlights the need to account for the joint operation of multiple stressors to accurately predict the impacts of global change on the link between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.