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Dispersal of non-native plants by introduced bison in an island ecosystem

by J. M. Constible, R. A. Sweitzer, D. H. Van Vuren, P. T. Schuyler, D. A. Knapp
Biological Invasions ()

Abstract

An understanding of the mechanisms of seed dispersal is critical to effectively managing populations of non-native plants. We investigated whether introduced bison on Santa Catalina Island, California, have the potential to spread non-native plants through the shedding of clumps of seed-laden hair and/or ingesting and later excreting seeds. We collected clumps of hair shaved from bison during a roundup and dislodged by wallowing activity. Greenhouse and field trials were used to test for seed viability and persistence of hair clumps in wallows. In addition to trials with bison hair, we collected samples of bison dung and tested for seed germination in a greenhouse. The majority of seeds extracted from bison hair clumps were of non-native forbs. There was a significant positive relationship between the size of hair clumps and the number of seeds extracted from the clumps, suggesting that managing the introduced bison population at a lower level will help minimize the spread of non-native plants by the species. Seeds of non-native plants were capable of germinating under conditions similar to those on Santa Catalina Island. Clumps of bison hair persisted in wallows, but did not remain intact and lost nearly 40% of their original mass. The number of germinable seeds contained in bison dung was low: 18 seeds germinated from 6 of 18 dung samples. Introduced bison appear to facilitate the dispersal of non-native plants over native plants on Santa Catalina Island. Our study suggests that a comprehensive strategy to control non-native plants must involve the management of the animal agents of plant dispersal.

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