A global review of weeds that can germinate from horse dung


  • Michael Ansong,

  • Catherine Pickering


To assess the diversity of weed seeds dispersed via horse dung, we reviewed 15 studies on seed germination from horse dung – six from Europe, four from North America, three from Australia and one study each from Africa and Central America. Seed from 249 species from 43 families have been identified germinating from horse dung. Almost two-thirds of the species were forbs and 33% graminoids, with over half being perennials and 32% annuals. Nearly every species (totalling 99% of those reviewed) is considered a weed somewhere, with 47% recorded as invasive and 19% international environmental weeds. Of the 2739 non-native plants that are naturalized in Australia, 156 have been shown to germinate from horse dung. This includes 16 of the 429 listed noxious weeds in Australia and two weeds of national significance. Seed from 105 of the 1596 invasive/noxious plant species in North America have also been identified germinating from horse dung. Seed traits including seed size, length, width and mass affect dispersal via horse dung. Habitat disturbance from trampling facilitates germination of seedlings from dung in both natural and experimental studies. Some studies found that plants germinating from dung reach maturity and flower, while others found plants did not survive due to unfavourable growing conditions in the field. The diversity of species with seed that can germinate from horse dung highlights the potential of horses to disperse a range of seed over long distances. Whether such dispersal is beneficial or harmful depends on the plant and the context in which it germinates. To maintain the conservation value of protected areas, it is important to understand and manage the different potential weed dispersal vectors, including horses.