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Seed dispersal by ungulates as an ecological filter: a trait-based meta-analysis

Abstract : Plant communities are often dispersal-limited and zoochory can be an efficient mechanism for plants to colonize new patches of potentially suitable habitat. We predicted that seed dispersal by ungulates acts as an ecological filter – which differentially affects individuals according to their characteristics and shapes species assemblages – and that the filter varies according to the dispersal mechanism (endozoochory, fur-epizoochory and hoof-epizoochory). We conducted two-step individual participant data meta-analyses of 52 studies on plant dispersal by ungulates in fragmented landscapes, comparing eight plant traits and two habitat indicators between dispersed and non-dispersed plants. We found that ungulates dispersed at least 44% of the available plant species. Moreover, some plant traits and habitat indicators increased the likelihood for plant of being dispersed. Persistent or nitrophilous plant species from open habitats or bearing dry or elongated diaspores were more likely to be dispersed by ungulates, whatever the dispersal mechanism. In addition, endozoochory was more likely for diaspores bearing elongated appendages whereas epizoochory was more likely for diaspores released relatively high in vegetation. Hoof-epizoochory was more likely for light diaspores without hooked appendages. Furepizoochory was more likely for diaspores with appendages, particularly elongated or hooked ones. We thus observed a gradient of filtering effect among the three dispersal mechanisms. Endozoochory had an effect of rather weak intensity (impacting six plant characteristics with variations between ungulate-dispersed and non-dispersed plant species mostly below 25%), whereas hoof-epizoochory had a stronger effect (eight characteristics included five ones with above 75% variation), and fur-epizoochory an even stronger one (nine characteristics included six ones with above 75% variation). Our results demonstrate that seed dispersal by ungulates is an ecological filter whose intensity varies according to the dispersal mechanism considered. Ungulates can thus play a key role in plant community dynamics and have implications for plant spatial distribution patterns at multiple scales.
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A. Albert, A.G. Auffret, E. Cosyns, S.A.O. Cousins, B. d'Hondt, et al.. Seed dispersal by ungulates as an ecological filter: a trait-based meta-analysis. Oikos, Nordic Ecological Society, 2015, 124 (9), pp.1109-1120. ⟨10.1111/oik.02512⟩. ⟨hal-02602956⟩



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