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Seed consumption and dispersal of ant-dispersed plants by slugs

Abstract

In beech-dominated forests in Central Europe, many spring geophytes show adaptations to seed dispersal by ants (myrmecochory). Ants, however, can be rare in such moist forests. Motivated by observations of slug feeding on seeds we investigated the seed consumption of two plant species, Anemone nemorosa and Asarum europaeum, by slugs, in a series of experiments. In a seed predation experiment in a beech forest, we found that seed removal was strongly reduced when gastropods were excluded from the seed depots. The contribution of insects, including ants, and rodents to seed removal was relatively less but differed between May and July. In the laboratory, slug species, in particular Arion sp., consumed seeds of both plant species. Slugs either consumed the elaiosomes of seeds or swallowed seeds intact. Swallowed seeds were defecated undamaged and germinated as well as control seeds when buried overwinter, indicating the potential for seed dispersal by slugs. We also recovered seeds of myrmecochores in the faeces of several slugs caught in forests. In a slug release experiment in the forest, slugs moved up to 14.6 m (mean 4.4 m) in 15 h, which is the median gut passage time of seeds based on measurements made in the laboratory. We also found that when slug-defecated seeds were offered to rodents, these were less attractive than control seeds, suggesting that passage through the slug gut reduces seed predation risk. Our results demonstrate that slugs are significant consumers of elaiosomes or entire seeds of ant-dispersed plants and that they can function as seed dispersers of these plants.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Frank Walther for help in slug identification, Dorthe Veddeler for her introduction into myrmecochores, Manfred Großmann for allowing us to work in the National Park, Esther Kowalski and Markus Lange for discussions, and Sonja Gockel, Denise Göpfert, Claudia Seilwinder, Matthias Groß, Ingrid Jakobi and Sylvia Creutzburg for help with organization and the experiments. The study was financed by the German Research Council (DFG) in the framework of the DFG biodiversity exploratories (http://www.biodiversity-exploratories.de; WE 3018/9-1). The experiments described here comply with the current laws of Germany.

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Correspondence to Manfred Türke.

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Communicated by Diethart Matthies.

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Türke, M., Heinze, E., Andreas, K. et al. Seed consumption and dispersal of ant-dispersed plants by slugs. Oecologia 163, 681–693 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-010-1612-6

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Keywords

  • Arion
  • Beech forest
  • Gastropodochory
  • Granivores
  • Myrmecochores