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The role of avian ‘seed predators’ as seed dispersers

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Seed dispersal is a central process in plant ecology with consequences for species composition and habitat structure. Some bird species are known to disperse the seeds they ingest, whereas others, termed ‘seed predators’, digest them and apparently play no part in dispersal, but it is not clear if these are discrete strategies or simply the ends of a continuum. We assessed dispersal effectiveness by combining analysis of faecal samples and bird density. The droppings of seed dispersers contained more entire seeds than those of typical seed predators, but over a quarter of the droppings of seed predators contained whole seeds. This effect was further magnified when bird density was taken into account, and was driven largely by one frequent interaction: the Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, a typical seed predator and the most abundant bird species in the area and dispersed seeds of Leycesteria formosa, a non-native plant with berry-like fruits. These results suggest the existence of a continuum between seed predators and seed dispersers.
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Keywords: Azores; Chaffinch; continuum; dispersal effectiveness; mutualism; seed dispersal

Document Type: Short Communication

Affiliations: 1: School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK 2: Institute of Marine Research (IMAR/CMA), Department of Life Sciences, University of Coimbra, PO Box 3046, 3001-401 Coimbra, Portugal

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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