Avian frugivory and seed dispersal of Indian Sandalwood Santalum album in Tamil Nadu, India

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P. Balasubramanian
R. Aruna
C. Anbarasu
E. Santhoshkumar


Santalum album, a medium sized evergreen tree found in dry forest tracts of the Deccan Peninsula, India is vulnerable (IUCN) and red listed species in southern India. The paper discusses the role of avian frugivores in seed dissemination of S.album in Tamil Nadu. Observations from different locations of Western and Eastern Ghats of Tamil Nadu are presented. The forest type of the study sites comprise of southern dry mixed deciduous forest. Extended watches of 3-hr duration were made on focal trees. During the extended observations, the observer noted the name of the visitor, frequency of fruit-feeding visits by different species, and fruit handling behaviour. A total of 10 species of birds and Three-striped Palm Squirrel foraged fruit crops. Birds constituted the principal seed dispersers of Santalum album. Role of Indian Grey Hornbill in regeneration of S. album was evidenced by the presence of sandalwood seedlings in hornbill’s nest middens. Although bulbuls made frequent foraging visits, they ate the fruits in piecemeal and did not move the seeds away from the parent trees. Among the avian foragers, Asian Koel, Common Myna, Brahminy Starling, Brown-headed Barbet, White-headed Babbler and Indian Grey Hornbill constituted the major seed dispersers of S.album. These birds visited the fruit crops more frequently and swallowed the fruits wholly. Conservation efforts need to focus in providing a healthy habitat for the seed dispersing birds such as koel, as the population of sandalwood tree is dwindling in the wild.

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