Comparative effects of native frugivores and introduced rodents on seed germination in New-Caledonian rainforest plants

Abstract

Native frugivores play an important role in native plant community dynamics by participating in seed dispersal. Today many island forests are invaded by introduced omnivores, such as rats, but their role in dispersing native plants is still little known. Here, we evaluated whether native seeds from New-Caledonian rainforests can germinate after passing through an invasive rat digestive tract and compared seed germinability and germination time between seeds ingested by invasive rats and native frugivores. We offered native fruits of Ficus racemigera and Freycinetia sulcata to the rats Rattus rattus and R. exulans, three flying foxes Pteropus spp. and the pigeon Ducula goliath. Our results showed that seeds can germinate after passing through an invasive rat digestive tract, and suggest that rats can disperse seeds of both plant species. However, invasive rats may be less efficient than native frugivores, as more seeds were destroyed when passing through rat digestive tracts than through native frugivores, and because germinability was lower and germination time was longer for seeds passing through invasive rats than through native frugivores. The reduced efficiency of rats may result from their generalized diet, the structure of their digestive tract, and/or their feeding behavior. In New-Caledonian rainforests, dispersal services on both plant species are likely well fulfilled by flying foxes and Ducula pigeons, but rats do not seem to be as efficient dispersers. Consequently, management measures to protect native frugivores should help to conserve seed dispersal services.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by the Northern Province of New Caledonia to REFCOR project (Réponses des Ecosystèmes Forestiers au COntrôle des Rongeurs, Convention No 12C240). We are grateful to Mélanie Boissenin, Bruno Fogliani, Charly Zongo from IAC (Institut Agronomique Néo-Calédonien) and Philippe Marmey from IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) for the valuable discussions about the experiment. We thank Almudena Lorenzo, Oriane Lallemand and Marianne Bonzon from Michel Corbasson Zoological and Forest Park of Noumea, “Direction de l’Environnement” of the Southern Province of New Caledonia, who allowed us to work with imperial pigeons and flying foxes. We also thank Edouard Bourguet and Frédéric Rigault for their help in collecting fruits, Josepho Bahormal for his help in taking care of rats, and Carol Frost for English advice and useful comments on the paper draft.

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Correspondence to Quiterie Duron.

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Duron, Q., Garcia-Iriarte, O., Brescia, F. et al. Comparative effects of native frugivores and introduced rodents on seed germination in New-Caledonian rainforest plants. Biol Invasions 19, 351–363 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-016-1284-1

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Keywords

  • Seed dispersal
  • Seed destruction
  • Rattus
  • Flying foxes
  • Frugivorous pigeon