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Keywords:

  • Dung;
  • Ecosystem fragmentation;
  • Ellenberg nitrogen indication;
  • Germination;
  • Seed longevity;
  • Seed mass;
  • Ungulates

Abstract

Questions: What is the potential of sheep to serve as seed dispersers via ingestion and defecation in calcareous grasslands? Is the presence of viable seeds from dung correlated with specific seed traits?

Location: Calcareous grasslands, South Limburg, the Netherlands/Belgium.

Methods: Dung samples (n=24) from sheep were collected between September 2006 and November 2007 from five sites with Mesobromion plant communities, and communities of Nardo-Galion saxatilis. Germinability and identity of seeds in the dung samples were ascertained from germination of seedlings under glasshouse conditions. Seed traits of species with viable seeds in dung were compared with those present in the local species pool.

Results: Seventy-two plant species from 23 plant families had viable seeds in sheep dung. The plant families encountered most frequently were Gramineae and Compositae. The most abundant and frequently recorded plant species in dung samples was Urtica dioica, accounting for >80% of the total number of seeds. Mean seed density in sheep dung was 0.8 seeds g−1 dry matter. Seeds with low seed mass and a high seed longevity index were over-represented in dung. Viable seeds >2.5 mg were infrequent in the dung samples.

Conclusions: We conclude that sheep are potentially important dispersers of plant species in Dutch calcareous grasslands. Although smaller seeds were relatively abundant in sheep dung, it cannot be excluded that this was mainly caused by differences in seed abundance.