Skip to main content Accessibility help

Interactions between the invasive tree Melia azedarach (Meliaceae) and native frugivores in South Africa

  • Friederike A. Voigt (a1), Nina Farwig (a2) and Steven D. Johnson (a1)


The spread of many invasive plants is facilitated through seed dispersal by frugivorous animals. The effectiveness of various frugivores as dispersers of the seeds of Melia azedarach, a highly invasive alien tree species, was evaluated in South Africa in savanna and bushveld vegetation. During 264 h of observation, seven bird species and one bat species were recorded foraging on fruiting trees of M. azedarach. The most common visitors were the dark-capped bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus) followed by Wahlberg's epauletted fruit bat (Epomophorus wahlbergi), but both species dropped nearly as many seeds as they dispersed. Knysna turaco (Tauraco corythaix) dispersed the highest number of fruits per minute, but occurred in low abundance in our study sites. Seed germination differed significantly between de-pulped fruits and untreated fruits after 2 mo, but was similar after 4 mo. Germination success did not differ between animal-handled and hand-depulped fruits. In contrast to the high germination success in the greenhouse, seedlings showed very low recruitment in the field. Thus, M. azedarach seems likely to benefit from frugivores (particularly dark-capped bulbul and Wahlberg's epauletted fruit bat) dispersing seeds to suitable microsites.


Corresponding author

1Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
ALLENDORF, F. W. & LUNDQUIST, L. L. 2003. Introduction: population biology, evolution, and control of invasive species. Conservation Biology 17:2430.
BLEHER, B. & BöHNING-GAESE, K. 2001. Consequences of frugivore diversity for seed dispersal, seedling establishment and the spatial pattern of seedlings and trees. Oecologia 129:385394.
BOTHA, C. J. & PENRITH, M. L. 2009. Potential plant poisoning in dogs and cats in southern Africa. Journal of the South African Veterinary Association 80:6374.
BUCKLEY, Y. M., ANDERSON, S., CATTERALL, C., CORLETT, R. T., ENGEL, T., GOSPER, C. R., NATHAN, R., RICHARDSON, D. M., SETTER, M., SPIEGEL, O., VIVIAN-SMITH, G., VOIGT, F. A., WEIR, J. & WESTCOTT, D. A. 2006. Management of plant invasions mediated by frugivore interaction. Journal of Applied Ecology 43:848857.
CHEN, J., DENG, X. B., BAI, Z. L., YANG, O., CHEN, G. Q., LIU, Y. & LIU, Z. Q. 2001. Fruit characteristics and Muntiacus muntijak vaginalis (Muntjac) visits to individual plants of Choerospondias axillaris. Biotropica 33:718722.
CIPOLLINI, M. L. & LEVEY, D. J. 1998. Secondary metabolites as traits of ripe fleshy fruits: a response to Eriksson and Ehrlen. American Naturalist 152:908911.
COATES PALGRAVE, K. 1983. Trees of Southern Africa. (Second edition). Struik Publishers, Cape Town. 959 pp.
COMPTON, S. G., CRAIG, A. & WATERS, I. W. R. 1996. Seed dispersal in an African fig tree: birds as high quantity, low quality dispersers? Journal of Biogeography 23:553563.
CORDEIRO, N. J., PATRICK, D. A. G., MUNISI, B. & GUPTA, V. 2004. Role of dispersal in the invasion of an exotic tree in an East African submontane forest. Journal of Tropical Ecology 20:449457.
CORLETT, R. T. 2002. Frugivory and seed dispersal in degraded tropical East Asian landscapes. Pp. 451465 in LEVEY, D. J., SILVA, W. R. & GALETTI, M. (eds.). Seed dispersal and frugivory: ecology, evolution and conservation. CAB International, Wallingford.
CORLETT, R. T. 2005. Interactions between birds, fruit bats and exotic plants in urban Hong Kong, South China. Urban Ecosystems 8:275283.
CRONK, Q. C. B. & FULLER, J. L. 1995. Plant invaders. The threat to natural ecosystems. Chapman and Hall, London. 241 pp.
DRUMMOND, B. A. 2005. The selection of native and invasive plants by frugivorous birds in Maine. Northeastern Naturalist 12:3344.
FRY, C. H., KEITH, S. & URBAN, E. K. 1988. The birds of Africa. Volume III. Academic Press Limited, London. 811 pp.
GHAZOUL, J. 2002. Seed predators and the enemy release hypothesis. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 17:308.
GOSPER, C. R. 2004. Fruit characteristics of invasive bitou bush, Chrysanthemoides monilifera (Asteraceae), and a comparison with co-occurring native plant species. Australian Journal of Botany 52:223230.
GOSPER, C. R., STANSBURY, C. D. & VIVIAN-SMITH, G. 2005. Seed dispersal of fleshy-fruited invasive plants by birds: contributing factors and management options. Diversity and Distributions 11:549558.
GREEN, R. J. 1993. Avian seed dispersal in and near subtropical rain-forests. Wildlife Research 20:535557.
GRYJ, E. O. & DOMINGUEZ, C. A. 1996. Fruit removal and postdispersal survivorship in the tropical dry forest shrub Erythroxylum havanense: ecological and evolutionary implications. Oecologia 108:368374.
HENDERSON, L. 1991. Invasive alien woody plant of northern Cape. Bothalia 21:177189.
HENDERSON, L. 2001. Alien weeds and invasive plants. Paarl Printers, Cape Town. 300 pp.
HENDERSON, L. & MUSIL, K. 1984. Exotic woody plant invaders of Transvaal. Bothalia 15:297313.
HOCKEY, P. A. E., DEAN, W. R. J. & RYAN, P. G. 2005. Roberts – birds of Southern Africa. (Eighth edition). The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 1296 pp.
HOWE, H. F. & SMALLWOOD, J. 1982. Ecology of seed dispersal. Annual Review Ecological Systematics 13:201228.
JANZEN, D. H. 1970. Herbivores and number of tree species in tropical forests. American Naturalist 104:501–28.
KEITH, S., URBAN, E. K. & Fry, C. H. 1992. The birds of Africa. Volume IV. Academic Press Limited, London. 609 pp.
KITAMURA, S., YUMOTO, T., POONSWAD, P., CHUAILUA, P., PLONGMAI, K., MARUHASHI, T. & NOMA, N. 2002. Interactions between fleshy fruits and frugivores in a tropical seasonal forest in Thailand. Oecologia 133:559572.
KNIGHT, R. 1986. A comparative analysis of fleshy fruit display in alien and indigenous plants. Pp. 171178 in MACDONALD, I., KRUGER, F. & FERRAR, A. (eds.). The ecology and management of biological invasions in Southern Africa. Oxford University Press, Cape Town.
KOOP, A. L. 2004. Differential seed mortality among habitats limits the distribution of the invasive non-native shrub Ardisia elliptica. Plant Ecology 172:237249.
KORINE, C., IZHAKI, I. & ARAD, Z. 1999. Is the Egyptian fruit-bat Rousettus aegyptiacus a pest in Israel? An analysis of the bat's diet and implications for its conservation. Biological Conservation 88:301306.
LLORET, F., MEDAIL, F., BRUNDU, G., CAMARDA, I., MORAGUES, E., RITA, J., LAMBDON, P. & HULME, P. E. 2005. Species attributes and invasion success by alien plants on Mediterranean islands. Journal of Ecology 93:512520.
MABBERLEY, D. J. 1984. A monograph of Melia in Asia and the Pacific. The history of White Cedar and Persian Lilac. Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore 37:4964.
OELRICHS, P. B., HILL, M. W., VALLELY, P. J., MACLEOD, J. K. & MOLINSKY, T. F. 1983. Toxic tetranortriterpenes of the fruit of Melia azedarach. Phytochemistry 22:531534.
PARKER, I. M. & HAUBENSAK, K. A. 2002. Comparative pollinator limitation of two non-native shrubs: do mutualisms influence invasions? Oecologia 130:250258.
PHUA, D. H., TSAI, W.-J., GER, J., DENG, J.-F. & YANG, C.-C. 2008. Human Melia azedarach poisoning. Clinical Toxicology 46:10671070.
QUINN, G. P. & KEOUGH, M. J. 2002. Experimental design and data analysis for biologists. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 537 pp.
RENNE, I. J., BARROW, W. C., RANDALL, L. A. J. & BRIDGES, W. C. 2002. Generalized avian dispersal syndrome contributes to Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum, Euphorbiaceae) invasiveness. Diversity and Distributions 8:285295.
RICHARDSON, D. M., MACDONALD, I. A. W., HOFFMANN, J. H. & HENDERSON, L. 1997. Alien plant invasions. Pp. 535570 in Cowling, R. M., Richardson, D. M. & Pierce, S. M. (eds.). Vegetation of Southern Africa. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
RICHARDSON, D. M., ALLSOPP, N., D'ANTONIO, C. M., MILTON, S. J. & REJMANEK, M. 2000. Plant invasions – the role of mutualisms. Biological Reviews 75:6593.
SAKAI, A. K., ALLENDORF, F. W., HOLT, J. S., LODGE, D. M., MOLOFSKY, J., With, K. A., BAUGHMAN, S., CABIN, R. J., COHEN, J. E., ELLSTRAND, N. C., McCAULEY, D. E., O'NEIL, P., PARKER, I. M., THOMPSON, J. N. & WELLER, S. G. 2001. The population biology of invasive species. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 32:305332.
SCHAEFER, H. M., SCHMIDT, V. & WINKLER, H. 2003. Testing the defence trade-off hypothesis: how contents of nutrients and secondary compounds affect fruit removal. Oikos 102:318328.
SHERLEY, G. 2000. Invasive species in the Pacific: a technical review and draft regional strategy. SPREP. Apia Samoa. 190 pp.
SKINNER, J. D. & CHIMIMBA, C. T. 2005. The mammals of the Southern African Subregion. (Third edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 812 pp.
SMITH, C. A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Botanical Survey Memoir 35. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria. 642 pp.
SPACE, J. C., Waterhouse, B., Denslow, J. S. & Nelson, D. 2000. Invasive Plant Species on Rota, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands. U.S.D.A. Forest Service Pacific Research Station, Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, Honolulu, Hawai. 31 pp.
TOURN, G. M., MENVIELLE, M. F., SCOPEL, A. L. & PIDAL, B. 1999. Clonal strategies of a woody weed: Melia azedarach. Plant and Soil 217:111117.
TRAVESET, A., RIERA, N. & MAS, R. E. 2001. Passage through bird guts causes interspecific differences in seed germination characteristics. Functional Ecology 15:669675.
VANDER WALL, S. B., KUHN, K. M. & BECK, M. J. 2005. Seed removal, seed predation, and secondary dispersal. Ecology 86:801806.
VILA, M. & D'ANTONIO, C. M. 1998. Fruit choice and seed dispersal of invasive vs. noninvasive Carpobrotus (Aizoaceae) in coastal California. Ecology 79:10531060.
VOIGT, F. A., BLEHER, B., FIETZ, J., GANZHORN, J. U., SCHWAB, D. & BöHNING-GAESE, K. 2004. A comparison of morphological and chemical fruit traits between two sites with different frugivore assemblages. Oecologia 141:94104.
WESTCOTT, D. A., BENTRUPPERBAUMER, J., BRADFORD, M. G. & MCKEOWN, A. 2005. Incorporating patterns of disperser behaviour into models of seed dispersal and its effects on estimated dispersal curves. Oecologia 146:5767.
WHEELWRIGHT, N. T. 1985. Fruit size, gape width, and the diets of fruit-eating birds. Ecology 66:808818.
WILLIAMSON, M. 1999. Invasions. Ecography 22:512.
WITMER, M. C. & VAN SOEST, P. J. 1998. Contrasting digestive strategies of fruit-eating birds. Functional Ecology 12:728741.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed