How does gut passage impact endozoochorous seed dispersal success? Evidence from a gut environment simulation experiment

Tanja Milotic, Maurice Hoffmann

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Endozoochory of temperate grassland species is a widespread phenomenon and may accelerate and/or increase germination in some plant species. However, the mechanisms causing this altered germination success are only partly understood. In this study,germination of common grassland species was evaluated after simulated herbivore digestion in a standardized lab environment.Ruminants (cattle) and hindgut fermenters (horses) were used as model organisms in this simulation experiment. Three major digestive processes were studied through mechanical, thermal and chemical treatments of the seeds simulating mastication,body temperature and digestive fluids, respectively. Congeneric groups of annuals and perennials were tested with 15 species belonging to the plant families Cistaceae, Cyperaceae, Fabaceae, Poaceae and Urticaceae. No differences between the impact of the simulated herbivore gut environments of cattle and horses could be found, but major differences in germination behaviour were found among plant species. For most of the tested plant species, treatments had a decelerating and inhibiting effect on germination compared to the untreated seeds. However, species of the Cistaceae and Fabaceae benefited from mechanical treatments. Species of the Cyperaceae and Poaceae were hardly impaired by any of the treatments and even germinated better after chemical treatments. Thermal treatments, simulating the body temperature, prohibited germination in most cases. The germination success of Urtica urens was significantly higher after all treatments, which suggests seeds are specifically well adapted to gut passage, and hence to endozoochorous dispersal.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBasic and Applied Ecology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)165-176
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2016

Thematic list

  • Species and biotopes

EWI Biomedical sciences

  • B003-ecology
  • B004-botany

Taxonomic list

  • angiosperms (flowering plants) (Angiospermae)

Free keywords

  • Endozoochory; Germination; Seed dispersal

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