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Ecology. 2008 Oct;89(10):2684-91.

Behavior rather than diet mediates seasonal differences in seed dispersal by Asian elephants.

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  • 1Laboratory of Biodiversity Science, University of Tokyo, Yayoi 1-1-1, Bunkyo-ku, 113-8657, Tokyo, Japan.


Digestive physiology and movement patterns of animal dispersers determine deposition patterns for endozoochorously dispersed seeds. We combined data from feeding trials, germination tests, and GPS telemetry of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to (1) describe the spatial scale at which Asian elephants disperse seeds; (2) assess whether seasonal differences in diet composition and ranging behavior translate into differences in seed shadows; and (3) evaluate whether scale and seasonal patterns vary between two ecologically distinct areas: Sri Lanka's dry monsoon forests and Myanmar's (Burma) mixed-deciduous forests. The combination of seed retention times (mean 39.5 h, maximum 114 h) and elephant displacement rates (average 1988 m in 116 hours) resulted in 50% of seeds dispersed over 1.2 km (mean 1222-2105 m, maximum 5772 m). Shifts in diet composition did not affect gut retention time and germination of ingested seeds. Elephant displacements were slightly longer, with stronger seasonal variation in Myanmar. As a consequence, seed dispersal curves varied seasonally with longer distances during the dry season in Myanmar but not in Sri Lanka. Seasonal and geographic variation in seed dispersal curves was the result of variation in elephant movement patterns, rather than the effect of diet changes on the fate of ingested seeds.

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