KNAW Fonds Ecologie - Dispersal of plant seeds by waterbirds across habitat types

  • van Leeuwen, Casper (PI)

Project Details


Darwin was the first to propose waterbirds as possibly important dispersal vectors for aquatic plants and invertebrates among wetland habitats (Darwin 1859). Today, we know that waterbirds ingest seeds from a broad range of plant species, and that a large part of these seeds survives passage through their digestive systems and is successfully dispersed over long distances (Van Leeuwen et al. 2012). Recent evidence shows that waterbirds do not only disperse aquatic plant seeds, but also riparian and fully terrestrial plant species (Soons et al. 2016). Possibly seeds are transported across a much broader range of habitat types and by a wider variety of waterbird species than recognized
thus far. However, data are still scare, and biased towards only few waterbird species and habitats.
This hampers us to assess the relative importance of birds compared to dispersal by e.g. wind and water flows. Which bird species disperse which plant species, and how far exactly? Do birds transport seeds randomly in the landscape, e.g. to similar locations as wind dispersal would take them? Or do birds transport seeds non-randomly, from certain source habitats to particular sink habitats? Understanding the dispersal capacity of plant species is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s changing world, because it is essential for accurate predictions on which species may spatially escape habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, climate warming, or – alternatively – will become invasive.
Effective start/end date01/08/201931/10/2019


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