Increasing efficiency and reducing bias in the sampling of seed-dispersal interactions based on mist-netted birds
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Efficient and unbiased sampling of ecological interactions is essential to our understanding of the functions they mediate. Seed dispersal by frugivorous birds is a key mutualism for plant regeneration and community dynamics. Mist-netting is one of the most widely used methods to sample avian seed dispersal through the identification of seeds in droppings of captured birds kept inside cloth bags. However, birds may drop seeds on the ground before being extracted from the net, leading to a fraction of missing information due to ineffective sampling. Worryingly, this fraction could be unevenly distributed across bird and plant species, leading to sampling biases. Here, we assess the effectiveness of using a 1-m wide mesh below mist nets to sample seeds dropped by entangled birds. We used data from birds mist-netted during one-year-round. We sampled nearly 50% of interaction events and 75% of dispersed seeds on the mesh band below the mist nets (i.e. lost information without this optimization). The proportion of seeds sampled on the mesh bands was not evenly distributed among bird species but strongly related to bird size, ranging from 57–63% in warblers to 84–94% in thrushes. Moreover, the proportion of seeds sampled on the mesh was negatively related to seed size, although this relationship was weaker. We also evaluated accumulation curves of species and pairwise interactions with increasing sampling effort, both with and without using the mesh bands. The number of seed species sampled increased by 21% when using the mesh bands and the number of pairwise interactions by 36%. Our findings provide strong evidence on how inefficient and biased traditional mist-netting can be for sampling community-wide seed–dispersal interactions. We thus urge the use of mesh bands in future studies to increase sampling effectiveness and avoid biases, which will ultimately improve our understanding of the seed dispersal function.
Subjectsfrugivorous birds; mesh band; mist-netting; method optimization; plant–animal interactions; sampling biases; sampling effectiveness
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