Endozoochory is an important dispersal mechanism for seed plants and has recently been demonstrated to occur also in spore plants, such as ferns, which are commonly consumed by herbivores. However, it is not known whether fern species from particular habitats are differentially preferred by herbivores and whether their spores differ in their ability to survive the gut passage of herbivores. Such differences would suggest adaptation to endozoochorous dispersal, as it is known for seed plants. Moreover, it is unclear whether herbivore species differ in their efficiency to disperse fern spores. In a factorial experiment, we fed fertile leaflets of 13 fern species from different forest and open habitats to three polyphagous herbivore species and recorded the germination of spores from feces after 46 and 81 days. Fern spores germinated in 66 % of all samples after 46 days. At this stage, germination success differed among fern and herbivore species, but was independent of the ferns’ habitat. Interestingly, after 81 days fern spores germinated in 85 % of all samples and earlier significant differences in germination success among fern and herbivore species were not sustained. The overall high germination success and the absence of differences among fern species from different habitats together with the consistency across three tested herbivores strongly imply endozoochorous dispersal to be a taxonomically widespread phenomenon among fern-eating herbivores, which all might act as potential dispersal vectors.
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