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Keywords:

  • Dispersal vector;
  • Epizoochory;
  • Seed attachment;
  • Seed retention;
  • Seed traits;
  • Vulpes vulpes

Abstract

Questions: Is the red fox a potential vector for epizoochorous seed dispersal? Can seed attachment and retention be predicted from plant and seed traits?

Location: Grasslands in southern Norway.

Methods: Epizoochorous seed attachment on the red fox was studied by walking a dummy fox through the vegetation and comparing seeds found on the dummy with the estimated seed availability in the vegetation. Seed retention, i.e. the ability of different seeds to stay on the fox, was estimated in a separate experiment. Seed attachment and retention were related to plant and seed traits using statistical models that account for heteroscedasticity and zero-inflated data.

Results: The majority of seeds attached to the fox originated from a few species, but also species without specific seed traits that are supposed to enhance epizoochory attached at least some seeds to the fox. The probability of seed attachment was positively related to plant height, bristle and hooked seed appendages, and negatively related to winged appendages, seed mass, and seed sphericity. Seed retention was positively related to the seed traits bristles, hooks and pappus. For several species, the results indicate a high potential for dispersal over long distances.

Conclusions: In modern agricultural landscapes, large herbivores are often restricted in their mobility or are found at low densities, and other animal vectors may therefore be important for seed dispersal. In our study, a range of plant species were able to disperse by attaching seeds to, and having their seeds retained in, the fox fur some distance. We suggest that the red fox may be an important vector for epizoochorous seed dispersal in the agricultural landscape.