- Overseas seed dispersal by migratory birds
- Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
- Volume | Issue number
- 283 | 1822
- Article number
- Number of pages
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
Long-distance dispersal (LDD) promotes the colonization of isolated and remote habitats, and thus it has been proposed as a mechanism for explaining the distributions of many species. Birds are key LDD vectors for many sessile organisms such as plants, yet LDD beyond local and regional scales has never been directly observed nor quantified. By sampling birds caught while in migratory flight by GPS-tracked wild falcons, we show that migratory birds transport seeds over hundreds of kilometres and mediate dispersal from mainland to oceanic islands. Up to 1.2% of birds that reached a small island of the Canary Archipelago (Alegranza) during their migration from Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa carried seeds in their guts. The billions of birds making seasonal migrations each year may then transport millions of seeds. None of the plant species transported by the birds occurs in Alegranza and most do not occur on nearby Canary Islands, providing a direct example of the importance of environmental filters in hampering successful colonization by immigrant species. The constant propagule pressure generated by these LDD events might, nevertheless, explain the colonization of some islands. Hence, migratory birds can mediate rapid range expansion or shifts of many plant taxa and determine their distribution.
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