Plants on the move: Hitch-hiking with ungulates distributes diaspores across landscapes
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We here describe the multiple mechanisms by which ungulates distribute diaspores across landscapes. There are three primary and three secondary seed dispersal mechanisms by which ungulate dispersal agents contribute to the spread of plant diaspores, both with and without the intervention of other biotic and abiotic agents. These dispersal mechanisms may be combined in successive inter-dependent steps. Native, introduced and domestic ungulates co-occur in many ecosystems and frequently interact with numerous plant species, which facilitates long-distance dispersal of both native and exotic plants. However, ungulate taxonomic diversity conceals a much higher diversity in terms of the functional traits involved in ungulate-mediated dispersal (e.g., feeding regime, fur morphology). These traits may strongly affect emigration, transfer and immigration in the animal-mediated plant dispersal, and consequently; they may also impact overall seed dispersal effectiveness, both quantitatively and qualitatively. In this review, we compare internal mechanisms, where seeds must survive digestive treatments (regurgitation, endozoochory), with external mechanisms, where diaspores are carried on the outside of the vectors (epizoochory). We include both primary epizoochory (direct adhesion to fur essentially) and secondary epizoochory (diaspore-laden mud adhering to hooves or the body and, transfer through contact with a conspecific). We addressed the overlap/complementarity of ungulates for the plant species they disperse through a systematic literature review. When two ungulate species co-occur, there is always an overlap in the plant species dispersed by endozoochory or by fur-epizoochory. Further, when we consider the proportion of plant species dispersed both internally and externally by an ungulate, the overlap is higher for grazing than browsing ungulates. We identify two challenges for the field of dispersal ecology: the proportion of all diaspores produced that are carried over long distances by ungulates, and the relative importance of ungulates on the whole as the main dispersal agent for plants. Furthermore, the fact that numerous plants dispersed by fur-epizoochory do not feature any specific adaptations is intriguing. We discuss unsolved methodological challenges and stress research perspectives related to ungulate-mediated dispersal: for example, taking animal behavior and cognition into account and studying how ungulates contribute to the spread of invasive exotic plants and altitudinal plant dispersal.
- RESEARCH: CIB Associates