Ecological Research

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 195–201

Analysis of wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) movement patterns to explain the spatial structure of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) populations

  • Michael C. Elza
  • Christina Slover
  • James B. McGraw
Original Article


American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is America’s premier wild-harvested, medicinal plant that inhabits the forest understory of eastern deciduous forests. Recent research revealed that birds, particularly wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina), disperse ginseng seeds by regurgitating viable seeds 15–37 min after consuming the berries. We carried out two studies to examine the potential effect of thrushes on spatial dispersion patterns of ginseng. First, to analyze how far wood thrushes could disperse seeds, two wood thrushes were outfitted with radio transmitters and tracked for multiple days. Second, for 28 natural populations of ginseng, we created a clustering index to quantify to what degree populations were structured into spatially separated units. To further detect spatial impacts of thrushes, we analyzed inter-cluster distances and the overall spread of ginseng populations. Over the time period in which wood thrushes retain ginseng in their guts, the seeds would be dispersed a mean distance of 15.2–21.7 m. The observed distances ranged from 0–96.6 m. These distances were comparable to the overall spread metric for ginseng populations with wood thrushes, which had increased spacing in comparison to those without wood thrushes. The mean dispersion index differed for populations with and without wood thrushes. It is imperative to understand the interaction between wood thrushes and ginseng to facilitate conservation, as both species are experiencing population declines. Dispersal of seeds by wood thrushes could play an important role in allowing species such as ginseng to respond to climate change, deer browse, overharvesting, and other environmental stresses.


American ginseng Seed dispersal Wood thrush 


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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