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Passive restoration following ungulate removal in a highly disturbed tropical wet forest devoid of native seed dispersers

October 30, 2017

Overabundant ungulate populations can alter forests. Concurrently, global declines of seed dispersers may threaten native forest structure and function. On an island largely devoid of native vertebrate seed dispersers, we monitored forest succession for 7 years following ungulate exclusion from a 5-ha area and adjacent plots with ungulates still present. We observed succession from open scrub to forest and understory cover by non-native plants declined. Two trees, native Hibiscus tiliaceus and non-native Leucaena leucocephala, accounted for most forest regeneration, with the latter dominant. Neither species is dependent on animal dispersers nor was there strong evidence that plants dependent on dispersers migrated into the 5-ha study area. Passive restoration following ungulate removal may facilitate restoration, but did not show promise for fully restoring native forest on Guam. Restoration of native forest plants in bird depopulated areas will likely require active outplanting of native seedlings, control of factors resulting in bird loss, and reintroduction of seed dispersers.