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Biol Lett. 2018 Aug;14(8). pii: 20180388. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0388.

Special delivery: scavengers direct seed dispersal towards ungulate carcasses.

Author information

1
Faculty of Technology, Natural Sciences and Maritime Sciences, Department of Natural Sciences and Environmental Health, University of South-Eastern Norway, 3800 Bø i Telemark, Norway sam.steyaert@usn.no.
2
Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1432 Ås, Norway.
3
Faculty of Technology, Natural Sciences and Maritime Sciences, Department of Natural Sciences and Environmental Health, University of South-Eastern Norway, 3800 Bø i Telemark, Norway.
4
Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, 1431 Ås, Norway.
5
Surveying and Spatial Sciences Group, College of Sciences and Engineering, University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay Tasmania, Hobart TAS-7001, Australia.
6
Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, 5006 Bergen, Norway.

Abstract

Cadaver decomposition islands around animal carcasses can facilitate establishment of various plant life. Facultative scavengers have great potential for endozoochory, and often aggregate around carcasses. Hence, they may disperse plant seeds that they ingest across the landscape towards cadaver decomposition islands. Here, we demonstrate this novel mechanism along a gradient of wild tundra reindeer carcasses. First, we show that the spatial distribution of scavenger faeces (birds and foxes) was concentrated around carcasses. Second, faeces of the predominant scavengers (corvids) commonly contained viable seeds of crowberry, a keystone species of the alpine tundra with predominantly vegetative reproduction. We suggest that cadaver decomposition islands function as endpoints for directed endozoochory by scavengers. Such a mechanism could be especially beneficial for species that rely on small-scale disturbances in soil and vegetation, such as several Nordic berry-producing species with cryptic generative reproduction.

KEYWORDS:

Empetrum nigrum; Rangifer tarandus; carrion ecology; directed seed dispersal; endozoochory; scavengers

PMID:
30111659
PMCID:
PMC6127118
[Available on 2019-08-01]
DOI:
10.1098/rsbl.2018.0388

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