The scientific community already knew that many carnivores eat fruit, but had thought this was something purely anecdotal. Now researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) have shown that carnivorous animals such as foxes and martens play an important role in helping fruiting plants to reproduce and disperse their seeds.
Far from viewing the relationship between carnivorous mammals and plants as irrelevant, a team of researchers from the USC studied how foxes and (Vulpes vulpes) and the European pine marten (Martes martes) consumed the fruit of the rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) in the Cordillera Cantbrica mountain range, and found that both species were capable of tracking yearly differences in the abundance of rowan fruit in Cantabrian forests, and in addition showed a marked preference for the most productive trees.
"Carnivores are not indifferent to seasonal and spatial variations in the amount of fruit they can obtain from the rowan tree", Ignacio Munilla, co-author of the study and a researcher at the USC' Department of Botany, tells SINC.
The study, published in the journal Acta Oecologica, suggests that some of the ecological paradigms about seed dispersal developed in tropical environments should be reconsidered for temperate climates. Munilla says: "The rowan is important to carnivores and carnivores are important to the rowan".
The rowan appears at altitudes of over 1,000 metres in the mountains of the Cordillera Cantbrica, and is a pioneer species that colonises secondary scrub and "prepares the way towards mature forest".
"Given its abundance and wide distribution, the rowan is a very important resource in European forests, from the mountains of the south of the continent right up to Scandinavia", says Jos Guitin, another co-author of the report and a researcher at the Department of Cell Biology and Ecology of the USC.
However, the amount of fruit this tree produces va
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology