Eric Niederhauser
Ph.D. Student
Dept. of Environmental and Plant Biology
Ohio University

The Contribution of Vertebrates to the Distribution of Mayapple

Directed dispersal is the selective placement of seeds in quality microsites, thereby increasing the probability of seedling success. Quality dispersal of forest herbs is increasingly important due to forest habitat fragmentation. Many forest herb species depend on animals to disperse their seeds by eating fruit and defecating the seeds at a distance from the parent plant. Due to their purposeful movement around the forest, animals have the ability to place seeds in narrowly defined microsites and are therefore potential directed-dispersal agents.

Mayapple produces a fleshy fruit that is eaten by animals including white-tailed deer and raccoons. To determine the effect these animals have on where mayapple is found and whether the animals are placing the seeds in good locations, characteristics of the environment where dung is deposited will be compared with characteristics of the environment where mayapple grows and reproduces. These results will help determine the relevance or frequency of directed dispersal in a common herb/animal dispersal system.

Seeds may also be moved by water, small animals or insects after they have been deposited with dung. To investigate the movement of seeds after they have been eaten and defecated, seeds will be painted with fluorescent paint, placed inside dung in the environment and then tracked over the course of fall and winter. Motion and heat activated cameras will also be used to see the types of animals that eat or take the seeds in dung

These results will allow a comprehensive picture of the complex process of dispersal in a forest wildflower, a process infrequently documented. This understanding will promote diversity of forest communities by suggesting strategies to promote dispersal by vertebrates.
Advisor: Dr. Glenn Matlack, Department of Environmental and Plant Biology Ohio University