Plant-animal interactions

Bird with fruit

Interactions between plants and animals are essential for the functioning of evosystems. Furthermore, via co-evolutionary dynamics, they may influence the emergence of new species and biodiversity. We focus on mutualistic and antagonistic interactions, such as between plants and fruit-eating and seed dispersing animals (frugivores) or between plants and (mega)herbivores.

We use observation data across ecological networks (e.g., seed dispersal networks) to understand the emergence of plant-animal interactions and their fate under global changes such as defaunation and climate change. We focus specifically on the principle of ‘trait matching’ in which interactions in networks are dependent on traits of interacting partners (such as colour vision in primates in relation to fruit colour in plants, or spines on trunks in relation to browsing by megaherbivores). We work at local or regional scales (e.g., in Argentina and Madagascar) as well as global scales. Part of this work also includes the development of a global ‘fruit database’ in which we have assembled interaction-relevant functional traits on fruits, seeds, stems, and growth forms for over 60,000 plant species. Please get in touch if you are interested in using these data for your project.


Dr. Renske Onstein
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Tropical Botany

Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Madagascar

-37.319390071824, -65.545790185279

In the

  • Onstein, R.E., Vink, D.N., Veen, J., Barratt, C.D., Flantua, S., Wich, S.A., Kissling, W.D. (2020) Palm fruit colour are linked to the broad-scale distribution and diversification of primate colour vision systems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 20192731
  • Onstein, R.E., Kissling, W.D., Chatrou, L.W., Couvreur, T.L.P., Morlon, H., Sauquet, H. (2019) Which frugivory‐related traits facilitated historical long‐distance dispersal in the custard apple family (Annonaceae)? Journal of Biogeography 46: 1874– 1888
  • Onstein R.E., Baker W.J., Couvreur T.L.P., Faurby S., Svenning J.C., Kissling W.D. (2017) Frugivory-related traits promote speciation of tropical palms. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1:1903–1911. doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0348-7
large fruit