|A reassessment of the role of simple seed traits in mortality following herbivore ingestion|
In: Plant Biology. Blackwell Publishing: New York; Stuttgart. ISSN 1435-8603; e-ISSN 1438-8677
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Grazing mammals are regarded as major vectors in seed dispersal of grassland plants, through seed ingestion and subsequent excretion (endozoochory). The (evolutionary) ecology underlying this dispersal mode is relatively poorly understood because there are limited data, among others, on how seed attributes perform in this process (and could thus be selected for). For seed mortality following ingestion, contrasting patterns described for the role of simple seed traits seem partly due to inadequate comparative analytical methods. We conducted a feeding experiment in which controlled seed quantities from 48 grassland herb and grass species were fed to cattle. Seed mass, length and shape measurements were related to seed mortality rate using phylogenetically independent contrasts, which account for taxonomic interdependence. The proportion of seeds surviving the digestive tract was generally low, but it reached 100%, with increased germination for some species. Neither seed size nor shape correlated significantly with mortality. Structural traits are likely to overrule these simple seed traits, as illustrated by high survival of species having water-impermeable seeds. As this trait has interesting properties with respect to intraspecific variation and genetics, it could provide opportunities for inference on evolutionary consequences for this type of dispersal.