Cost or benefit for growth and flowering of seedlings and juvenile grassland plants in a dung environment

Tanja Milotic, Maurice Hoffmann

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Endozoochory is a potential dispersal mode for numerous plant species. Although germination following endozoochory is well-documented, less is known about the costs and benefits associated with this dispersal mode in later life stages of established plants. The chemical and physical nature of dung differs between herbivores and might have specific effects on seedling establishment, growth and flowering. We conducted a growth experiment using 12 temperate grassland species with a known potential for endozoochory. We studied the effects of cattle and horse dung on the juvenile, growth and reproductive phase. Being a ruminant and a hindgut fermenter, respectively, cattle and horses are two physiologically contrasting herbivore species, producing structurally quite different dung types. They are additionally interesting model species as both are frequently introduced in temperate Europe grassland management. Seedling biomass and growth rate, height, ramification, flowering and biomass of grown plants were measured in an attempt to quantify the benefits of endozoochorously dispersed seeds compared to seeds dispersed by other means and thus growing in a virtually dung-free environment. Few species were affected by the presence of dung in the juvenile phase while most species generally benefitted from being deposited in dung in later life stages. Positive responses of Agrostis capillaris, Agrostis stolonifera, Alopecurus myosuroides, Helianthemum nummularium, Poa annua, Trifolium repens and Trifolium pratense were found, while dung had a negative effect on Juncus bufonius. The initial losses of viable seeds through the digestive system of herbivores might, therefore, be partially compensated by enhanced growth and flowering in some species.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1025-1042
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Thematic list

  • Flora

Free keywords

  • endozoochory
  • dung
  • seedling and juvenile stage
  • growth
  • grassland species


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