The effects of defaunation on plants’ capacity to track climate change


Evan C. Fricke, Alejandro Ordonez, Haldre S. Rogers & Jens-Christian Svenning Science

Date Published


Half of all plant species rely on animals to disperse their seeds. Seed dispersal interactions lost through defaunation and gained during novel community assembly influence whether plants can adapt to climate change through migration. We develop trait-based models to predict pairwise interactions and dispersal function for fleshy-fruited plants globally. Using interactions with introduced species as an observable proxy for interactions in future novel seed dispersal networks, we find strong potential to forecast their assembly and functioning. We conservatively estimate that mammal and bird defaunation has already reduced the capacity of plants to track climate change by 60% globally. This strong reduction in the ability of plants to adapt to climate change through range shifts shows a synergy between defaunation and climate change that undermines vegetation resilience.

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