Shorebirds as important vectors for plant dispersal in Europe
13 November 2018Lovas-Kiss, Ádám; Sanchez, M. I.; Wilkinson, David; Coughlan, Neil; Alves, Jose; Green, Andy J.
Shorebirds (Charadriiformes) undergo rapid migrations with potential for long-distance dispersal (LDD) of plants. We studied the frequency of endozoochory by shorebirds in different parts of Europe covering a broad latitudinal range and different seasons. We assessed whether plants dispersed conformed to morphological dispersal syndromes. A total of 409 excreta samples (271 faeces and 138 pellets) were collected from redshank (Tringa totanus), black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata) and black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) in south-west Spain, north-west England, southern Ireland and Iceland in 2005 and 2016, and intact seeds were extracted and identified. Godwits were sampled just before or after migratory movements between England and Iceland. The germinability of seeds was tested. Intact diaspores were recovered from all bird species and study areas, and were present in 13% of samples overall. Thirteen plant families were represented, including Charophyceae and 26 angiosperm taxa. Only four species had an "endozoochory syndrome". Four alien species were recorded. Ellenberg values classified three species as aquatic and 20 as terrestrial. Overall, 89% of seeds were from terrestrial plants, and 11% from aquatic plants. Average seed length was higher in redshank pellets than in their faeces. Six species were germinated, none of which had an endozoochory syndrome. Seeds were recorded during spring and autumn migration. Plant species recorded have broad latitudinal ranges consistent with LDD via shorebirds. Crucially, morphological syndromes do not adequately predict LDD potential, and more empirical work is required to identify which plants are dispersed by shorebirds. Incorporating endozoochory by shorebirds and other migratory waterbirds into plant distribution models would allow us to better understand the natural processes that facilitated colonization of oceanic islands, or to improve predictions of how plants will respond to climate change, or how alien species spread.