Biological Invasions

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1655–1665 | Cite as

The unnoticed effect of a top predator on complex mutualistic ecological interactions

  • M. Nogales
  • I. Castañeda
  • M. López-Darias
  • F. M. Medina
  • E. Bonnaud
Original Paper


Vertebrates often mediate seed dispersal systems, essential for the maintenance of biodiversity. Some of these acquire a complex multistep process in island environments, where for example a native predatory bird can predate upon a frugivorous vertebrate, dispersing seeds secondarily. These complex mutualistic processes are really threatened by biological invasions especially on islands, due to the particular and intrinsic traits of their biotas. One of the most pernicious invasive mammals is the feral cat, widely introduced on at least 179,000 islands worldwide. Despite the potential impact of disruption of these complex seed dispersal processes, their ecological effects remain largely unknown. Therefore, the main aim of this contribution is to assess the impact of an invasive vertebrate on seed dispersal effectiveness at the crucial phases of plant recruitment: seed damage, viability, and germination. We designed a laborious captivity experiment with lizards and cats to simulate the four potential ways seeds could be dispersed in the wild: (1) control plants, (2) lizard droppings, (3) cat droppings and (4) cat droppings after consuming frugivorous lizards. We considered those four plant species whose seeds were the most abundant in feral cat droppings in all the main habitats of the Canary Islands. The main results indicated that (1) species with thicker seed coat better resisted abrasion caused by the digestive effect of the invasive cats and, (2) native and endemic species with thinner seed coats, that have not evolved with invasive mammals, suffered from a negative effect on seed effectiveness. To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting the potential disruptive impact of secondary seed dispersal systems caused by an invasive predator and one of the scant contributions evaluating seed dispersal effectiveness.


Canary Islands Frugivorous lizards Felis silvestris catus Invasive species Mutualism Seed dispersal disruption 



Graciela G. Nicola, Rocío A. Baquero, Patricia Marrero, Benito Pérez, Francisco Martín, Elena Morales and Heriberto López for their logistic support in different phases of the project. María Teresa García facilitated our research and convinced two of her domestic cats (Gris and Panchita) to participate in our experiments. The Cabildo de Tenerife granted the permit (Expte.: FYF 208/11; No. Sigma: 831/2011) to temporarily maintain lizards in captivity. This work was indirectly benefited by three projects funded by the Gobierno de Canarias (ProID20100258), Organismo Autónomo de Parques Nacionales, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente (051/2010) and Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (CGL2010-18759).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Nogales
    • 1
  • I. Castañeda
    • 1
  • M. López-Darias
    • 1
    • 2
  • F. M. Medina
    • 1
    • 3
  • E. Bonnaud
    • 4
  1. 1.Island Ecology and Evolution Research Group (IPNA-CSIC)La Laguna, TenerifeSpain
  2. 2.Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avançats (CSIC-UIB)Esporles, MallorcaSpain
  3. 3.Servicio de Medio AmbienteCabildo Insular de La PalmaSanta Cruz de La PalmaSpain
  4. 4.Unité Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, Equipe Ecologie des Populations et des CommunautésUniversité Paris SudParisFrance

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