, Volume 104, Issue 2, pp 246-255

Herbivorous mammals as seed dispersers in a Mediterranean dehesa

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Abstract

Endozoochrous seed dispersal by herbivorous mammals has been verified repeatedly and its possible influence on the structure and function of herbaceous communities has been suggested. Quantitative studies, however, are lacking in the field of seed dispersal via the dung of herbivore guilds in little-altered environments. The present paper analyses seed dispersal via rabbit, fallow deer, red deer and cow dung in a Mediterranean dehesa (open woodland used for hunting and ranching) during the seeding season. Dung seed content was determined by the glasshouse cultivation of eight dung samples from each herbivore, collected fortnightly between February and August. The four herbivores disperse many seeds (spring averages are 6–15 seeds per gram of dry dung and maxima of 25–70) from a large number of species (totals between 52 and 78). Dispersal seems to be mainly determined by seed production of the plant comminity. This is reflected in (i) the dissemination of a high percentage of the species present in the dehesa, (ii) great seasonal variability, related to seed production, in the amount of seeds and number of species dispersed, and (iii) a high semi-quantitative similarity of seed content in the four types of herbivore dung throughout the year. There is also important quantitative variation that depends on animal traits and feeding habits. These results and the characteristics of species found in dung suggest the adaptation of plant species to the dispersal of their seeds via herbivore gut. This process may well have profound implications for vegetation dynamics and the evolution of plant traits.