Human diets drive range expansion of megafauna-dispersed fruit species

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Neotropical fruit species once dispersed by Pleistocene megafauna have regained relevance in diversifying human diets to address malnutrition. Little is known about the historic interactions between humans and these fruit species. We quantified the human role in modifying geographic and environmental ranges of Neotropical fruit species by comparing the distribution of megafauna-dispersed fruit species that have been part of both human and megafauna diets with fruit species that were exclusively part of megafauna diets. Three quarters of the fruit species that were once dispersed by megafauna later became part of human diets. Our results suggest that, because of extensive dispersal and management, humans have expanded the geographic and environmental ranges of species that would otherwise have suffered range contraction after extinction of megafauna. Our results suggest that humans have been the principal dispersal agent for a large proportion of Neotropical fruit species between Central and South America. Our analyses help to identify range segments that may hold key genetic diversity resulting from historic interactions between humans and these fruit species. These genetic resources are a fundamental source to improve and diversify contemporary food systems and to maintain critical ecosystem functions. Public, private, and societal initiatives that stimulate dietary diversity could expand the food usage of these megafauna-dispersed fruit species to enhance human nutrition in combination with biodiversity conservation.

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