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Dangerous liaisons disperse the Mediterranean dwarf palm: fleshy-pulp defensive role against seed predators

AuthorsFedriani, José M. ; Delibes, M.
KeywordsChamaerops humilis
dangerous liaisons
Doñana National Park
Guadalquivir River
fleshy pulp
indirect negative effects
Meles meles
seed dispersal costs
seed predation
transition probabilities
Issue DateFeb-2011
PublisherEcological Society of America
CitationEcology, 92(2): 304–315 (2011)
AbstractWe chose the interaction between the Mediterranean dwarf palm (Chamaerops humilis) and its major seed disperser, the Eurasian badger (Meles meles), to evaluate the hypothesis that endozoochory is characterized by a mixture of conflicting and overlapping interests, with the capacity of being positive or negative for plant fitness. For instance, because of the potential protective role against invertebrate seed predators of C. humilis pulp, we expected that badger-ingested diaspores (i.e., seeds without pulp) would show lower survival than control seeds with the pulp attached. Conversely, due to the possible germination inhibitory function of C. humilis fruit pulp, it was also likely that badger-ingested seeds germinate in higher proportion than control seeds. We evaluated our predictions by carrying out a field sowing and monitoring it over two years. We estimated several stage-specific transition probabilities as well as the cumulative probability of seedling recruitment under different treatments. Our experimental results revealed the multifunctionality of C. humilis fruit pulp and that fruit ingestion by badgers had conflicting outcomes for the palm. As predicted, seed survival was much lower and seed predation by invertebrates much higher for badger-ingested than for control seeds, suggesting a defensive role of C. humilis ripe fruit pulp. All early-emerged seedlings came from badger-ingested seeds, suggesting an inhibitory function of fruit pulp. Though we did not find an effect of removal from the maternal environment on most components of fitness, seedling survival for badger-ingested seeds was higher away from than beneath conspecifics. Badgers imposed a sizeable short-term fitness cost to C. humilis and therefore could be categorized as a ‘‘dangerous liaison.’’ Nonetheless, because of the high mobility of the badger, its dispersal service appears paramount given the severe fragmentation and isolation of most C. humilis populations across the highly humanized Mediterranean basin. Our study thus illustrates the necessity of assessing concurrently direct and indirect effects of plant–disperser interactions at different stages of the plant life cycle and recruitment process
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/09-2194.1
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