Deer as seed dispersers: the importance of scat decay, and effects on plant communities.
Blyth, Lauren*,1, Milligan, Laura1, Johnson, David1, Anderson, Laurel1, 1 Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OH
ABSTRACT- White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are known to disperse seeds through endozoochory, but the fates of these seeds are largely unknown. In ongoing field and greenhouse studies, we examined the importance of scat decay to seed germination success, and compared natural plant communities in microsites with and without deer scat to determine deer effects on plant diversity. Scat was collected in Delaware County, Ohio. After cold stratification, scat was either mashed or planted as intact pellets in the greenhouse to estimate numbers and species of viable seed present. The plantings produced germinants of over 18 species, two of which are invasive. Significantly more individuals and species germinated from mashed than intact pellets (P < 0.05), suggesting that scat decay is crucial for germination success. In the field, plant species diversity was compared between microsites containing scat and adjacent sites without scat. Spring plant diversity in scat plots was similar to nearby sites without scat, suggesting that there were no compositional changes in the plant communities of scat plots. Scat decay rates increased as the spring progressed, suggesting that higher temperatures increased the rate of this biological process. Fall decay rates were significantly slower than spring rates (P < 0.05). Our data suggest that deer are capable of dispersing many plant species, and that scat decay facilitates germination for many of these. However, given the similarity of plants found in sites with and without scat, the importance of deer as dispersers in nature remains unclear.
Key words: seed dispersal, temperate forest, Odocoileus virginianus
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