The empty forest reexamined: Establishing the basis for a long-term, ontogenetically-integrated, basin-wide study of the effects of hunting-induced mammalian extinctions on forest regeneration in lowland western Amazonia

Varun Swamy

In the past few decades, many formerly remote and pristine areas of lowland Amazonian rainforest have become frontier regions for the settlement of rapidly expanding rural human populations. Studies have shown that rapid depletion followed by complete extirpation, through hunting, of the large-bodied vertebrate fauna that inhabit these forests are often the eventual result of human settlement. These results suggest that most large-bodied vertebrates, particularly primates, are unlikely to persist in multiple-use zones in Amazonian forests unless hunting is effectively restricted. While the notion of an “empty forest” i.e. a forest that retains an intact adult tree community but is devoid of its large vertebrates, was proposed more than a decade ago, the indirect and potentially drastic impacts of the loss of large vertebrates on the regeneration dynamics and floral diversity of defaunated rainforests remains unclear. This project examines the importance of seed-dispersal services provided by large fruit-eating vertebrates on community-wide forest regeneration processes, and documents the short- and long-term effects of the loss of animal-mediated seed dispersal.