The historical distribution of megaherbivores does not determine the distribution of megafaunal fruit in southern Africa
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Large specialized fruit (megafaunal fruit) have evolved alongside megaherbivores to take advantage of their unparalleled seed dispersal service. Megaherbivores were widespread and abundant in the Pleistocene but due to multiple extinction events have been extirpated from all continents except Africa and small pockets of South East Asia. In Africa, we are in the unique position of being able to study megafaunal fruits where there are still areas with a largely intact megaherbivore community. The megafaunal fruits of the African forests have been examined but those of the African savannas have been largely overlooked. We use an operational definition of megafaunal fruit developed in the Neotropics to identify megafaunal fruit in the South African tree flora. Thirty-one species were identified as megafaunal fruit-bearers, representing only 3% of the tree flora. Megafaunal tree species are well represented in the families Mimosoideae, Arecaceae, Strychnaceae and Caesalpinoideae. We explored the factors underlying the distribution of these megafaunal tree species. We found that the historical distribution of megaherbivores in South Africa does not explain the distribution of these fruit. Megaherbivores have historically been found throughout South Africa while megafaunal fruit tree species occur almost exclusively in the northern tropical reaches of the country. Abiotic factors such as precipitation and temperature appear to best explain the distribution of megafaunal fruit species in the region. We conclude that megafaunal fruit are a tropical phenomenon and their tropical origins now limit their distribution.