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Keywords:

  • aquatic macrophytes;
  • biotic connectivity;
  • metacommunities;
  • waterbird dispersal

Summary

1. Dispersal of propagules by waterbirds is thought to be important for wetland plants because of the abundance of birds and their frequent movements among aquatic habitats. Differences in bird characteristics (size, movement, feeding ecology) were expected to lead to different outcomes for plant dispersal.

2. We investigated heterogeneity in plant dispersal by ducks (Anas superciliosa, Anas gracilis, Anas castanea). We calculated the probability of transport of viable seeds by germinating propagules retrieved from feathers and feet (epizoochory) and the contents of the oesophagus, gizzard and lower gut (endozoochory).

3. The abundance and richness of seeds carried internally and externally did not differ among sympatric bird species. We used estimates from the literature of movements of Anas species to approximate dispersal kernels for the transport of plant propagules.

4. Heterogeneity in the abundance and movement ecology of disperser species will result in differing patterns and degrees of connectivity for wetland plant metacommunities. Sedentary waterfowl are likely to have an important role in replenishing propagules and connecting aquatic metacommunities over small distances. Nomadic waterfowl may facilitate long-distance dispersal. We discuss the implications of differences between duck species in movement patterns for connectivity of aquatic plant metacommunities across landscapes.