Frugivory by Coyotes Decreases the Time to Germination and Increases the Growth of Netleaf Hackberry (Celtis reticulata) Seedlings release_lpcyw424sfahjlxndagwpewuym

by Michael Stevens, Sydney Houghton, Hannah A. Veltkamp

Published in Forests by MDPI AG.

2020   Volume 11, p727


Research Highlights: Frugivory by mammals is a common plant–animal interaction, but additional studies that examine the effects of frugivory on woody plants are needed. We show that ingestion of netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata Torr.) fruits by coyotes (Canis latrans Say) cuts the time to germination nearly in half and results in seedlings that are taller than the controls. Background and Objectives: Netleaf hackberry is a deciduous shrub to small tree that can be long-lived, but newly established stands are rare. The lack of juvenile hackberry in its native range of southwestern North America could be due to low percentages of germination and seedling survival. We hypothesized that passage through the digestive tract of a coyote would increase the germination and subsequent growth of netleaf hackberry. Materials and Methods: In the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, we collected coyote scats containing visible hackberry fruits and picked fresh fruits from nearby hackberry shrubs. All samples were cleaned and cold-stratified. We sowed 20 seeds from each of the 34 samples into containers in the greenhouse (a total of 680 seeds). We noted the date of emergence and final height of each seedling after 131 days. Results: The germination percentage of the coyote-treatment seeds did not differ from that of the controls. However, the coyote-ingested seeds took just over half as many days to germinate as did the undigested controls (35 days vs. 69 days, respectively; p < 0.001) and the resulting seedlings were 9.5% taller by the end of the growing season (6.4 vs. 5.8 cm, respectively; p < 0.001). Conclusions: Consumption by coyotes can benefit hackberries by enabling their seeds to germinate earlier in the year when conditions are wetter and cooler. The additional time for establishment and growth afforded by frugivory likely increases the fitness of netleaf hackberry seedlings that emerge into the unpredictable conditions of a semi-arid region.
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