, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 93-97

Did fleshy fruit pulp evolve as a defence against seed loss rather than as a dispersal mechanism?

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Relatively few studies have examined the evolution of the mutualism between endozoochorous plants and seed dispersers. Most seed dispersal studies are ecological and examine the role offruit pulp in promoting seed dispersal. This interaction is often assumed to have originated due to selection stemming from seed dispersers. Here I suggest a “defence scenario” wherein fleshy fruits originated as mechanisms to defend seeds and secondarily became structures to promote seed dispersal. I suggest that frugivory followed from herbivores that specialized on consuming seed defensive tissues and that enhanced seed dispersal was initially a consequence of seed defence. The proposed defence scenario is not posited as an explanation for the sequence that led to all modern frugivores. However, it is suggested that seed predation was the initial source of selection that led to fleshy fruits; the necessary precursor to frugivory. Support is described from the fossil record and from modern structures and interactions. Testable predictions are made in hope that greater interest will be focused on the defensive role of fleshy fruit pulp both in modern interactions and historically.