Revue : Journal of Ecology

Seed dispersal by dabbling ducks: an overlooked dispersal pathway for a broad spectrum of plant species

Auteurs :

Soons M.B.*, Brochet A.-L., Kleyheeg E., Green A.J.

* Auteur correspondant : Merel B. Soons (e-mail)

Résumé :

1. Dabbling ducks (Anatinae) are omnivorous birds that are widespread, numerous, highly mobile and often migratory, and therefore have great potential for (long distance) dispersal of other organisms, including plants. However, their ability to act as plant dispersal vectors has received little attention compared to frugivores and is often assumed to be relevant only for wetland species.
2. To evaluate the potential for plant dispersal by dabbling ducks, we collated and analysed existing data. We identified all plant species whose seeds have been recorded in the diets of the seven dabbling duck (Anas) species in the Western Palaearctic, as reported from gut content analyses. We then analysed the habitats and traits of these plant species to identify general patterns, and related these to data on gut passage survival and duck movements.
3. A large number of plant species (>445 species of 189 genera and 57 families) have been recorded in the diet of dabbling ducks. These plant species represent a very wide range of habitats, including almost the full range of site fertility, moisture and light conditions, excluding only very dry and deeply shaded habitats. The ducks prefer seeds of intermediate sizes (1–10 mm 3 ), which have good chances to survive gut passage, but also ingest smaller and larger seeds. Ingested seeds represent a wide range of dispersal syndromes, including fleshy fruits. Many species (62%) were not previously considered animal-dispersed in plant data bases, and 66% were not identified as bird-dispersed. Rarefaction analyses suggest that our analysis still greatly underestimates the total number of plant species ingested.
4. Synthesis. Dabbling ducks do not exclusively ingest seeds of wetland plants, which make up only 40 % of the ingested species. Rather, they feed opportunistically on a wide cross-section of plant species available across the landscapes they inhabit. Given the millions of ducks, the hundreds to thousands of seeds ingested per individual on a daily basis, and known gut passage survival rates, this results in vast numbers of seeds dispersed by ducks per day. Internal seed dispersal by dabbling ducks appears to be a major dispersal pathway for a far broader spectrum of plant species than previously considered.

Référence bibliographique complète :

Soons M.B.*, Brochet A.-L., Kleyheeg E., Green A.J. 2016. Seed dispersal by dabbling ducks: an overlooked dispersal pathway for a broad spectrum of plant species. J Ecol. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12531