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Generalized avian dispersal syndrome contributes to Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum, Euphorbiaceae) invasiveness

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Plants possessing generalized dispersal syndromes are likely to be more invasive than those relying on specialist dispersal agents. To address this issue on a local and regional scale, avian seed dispersal of the invasive alien Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb.) was assessed in forests and spoil areas of South Carolina and along forest edges in Louisiana during the 1997–99 fruiting seasons. Tallow trees in these floristically distinct habitats had a few common and many casual visitors, and considerable species overlap among habitats was found. However, bird species differed in the importance of dispersing and dropping seeds among habitats. Important dispersal agents common to forests and spoil areas of South Carolina included Northern Flicker, American Robin and Red-winged Blackbird, whereas Red-bellied Woodpecker and European Starling were important in the former and latter habitat, respectively. In Louisiana, Red-bellied Woodpecker, American Robin, Northern Cardinal and Eastern Bluebird dispersed many seeds. Nearly all species foraging on seeds were winter residents. Estimated numbers of seeds dispersed and dropped were higher in spoil areas of South Carolina than in Louisiana because of higher numbers of individuals per visit, higher seed consumption and seed dropping rates, and longer foraging durations. Within South Carolina, more seeds were dispersed and dropped in spoil areas than in forests because of higher numbers of birds per visit. These findings show that among habitats, tallow tree attracts diverse but variable coteries of dispersal agents that are qualitatively similar in seed usage patterns. We suggest that its generalized dispersal syndrome contributes to effective seed dispersal by many bird species throughout its range. Effects of differential avian use among locales may include changes in local bird communities, and differing tallow tree demographics and invasion patterns.

Keywords: Avian seed dispersal; biological invasions; regional dispersal syndromes

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: U.S. Geological Survey, National Wetlands Research Center, 700 Cajundome Blvd., Lafayette, Louisiana, 70506 USA and 2: Department of Experimental Statistics, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, 29634 USA

Publication date: 2002-09-01

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