Large herbivores lead to taller, denser and spinier tropical plants

Study finds megafauna effect on selection of functional plant traits in the tropics

Data resources used via GBIF : 2,851,679 species occurrences
Adansonia digitata
Adansonia digitata observed in Tanzania by cookswell (CC BY-NC 4.0)

While tropical biomes sharing climate and soil characteristics exist in several parts of the world, functional plant traits and disturbance regimens vary between continents.

In this study comparing the tropical forests and savannas of Africa and South America, researchers tested the hypothesis that the extinction of megafauna in the Neotropics may explain such differences between the two regions.

Assessing functional traits of thousands of plants, the authors found significant differences when comparing biomes and continents. African species were taller and denser than Neotropical species, particularly in the savannas. Species with spines were more frequent in Africa, while the presence of geoxyles (underground growth) was more frequent in the Neotropics.

Using GBIF-mediated occurrences, they created models to describe climatic conditions, finding that biogeographical patterns in traits could not be explained by differences in environmental variables.

Taken together, these results point to more fire-adapted species in South America and a megafauna effect on selection for more herbivory-adapted species in Africa.

Dantas VL and Pausas JG (2020) Megafauna biogeography explains plant functional trait variability in the tropics. Global Ecology and Biogeography. Wiley 29(8): 1288–1298. Available at: