Robin M. Martino, PhD is a 2015 graduate of the PhD Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

Beth A. Kaplin, Ph.D, Committee Chair
Peter Palmiotto, DF, Committee Member
Norbert J. Cordeiro, Ph.D, Committee Member


Land use, landscape change, matrix type, edge effects, seed dispersal, frugivore assemblages, large-seeded trees, protected areas, biodiversity conservation

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Land use type in the human dominated matrix surrounding tropical forest can influence edge effects at the forest-matrix interface. Edge effects can alter ecological processes and impact the function of forest edge ecosystems. A key ecological process that helps maintain tropical forest and is affected by forest disturbance is seed dispersal by large, fruit eating vertebrates (frugivores). This dissertation examines how the type of vegetation in the matrix, the `soft’ edge contrast of pine plantations and the `hard’ edge contrast of tea plantations, affect seed dispersal behavior of large frugivores, and the structure and composition of tree species, in forest edge habitat. Research was conducted in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda, a protected area located in East and Central Africa. Focal tree observations were conducted from December 2011 to September 2012 in forest edges adjacent to two different matrix types and within the forest interior. I recorded visitation frequency and seed removal of frugivores at large-seeded trees. For analysis, seed dispersers were divided into two groups, birds and primates. The response to matrix type differed between disperser groups. Feeding visits by birds were less common in forest edges adjacent to a tea planation matrix, whereas feeding visits by primates were more common in edges adjacent to tea plantations. To explore the influence of matrix type and edge effects on tree species structure and composition, I sampled forest edges adjacent to the different matrix types and within the forest interior. The type of surrounding matrix influenced edge effects on forest structure and composition. I found evidence that a pine plantation matrix mitigated some of the adverse effects of edge on tree communities; tree communities in edges adjacent to tea plantations showed a stronger response to edge effects. Overall, this study shows evidence that land use type in the human dominated matrix can affect ecosystem function and the long-term persistence of some groups of species. The study provides new knowledge on the impact of matrix type on plants, animals, and plant-animal interactions in the edges of a large protected area and indicates the degree to which human disturbance may alter ecological function.


ORCID Scholar ID # : 0000-0001-9804-8878