Seed dispersal between aquatic and agricultural habitats by greylag geese

Abstract

Waterbirds disperse plant seeds within and between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in their faeces. However, seed dispersal distances, connectivity among habitat types, and implications for dispersal of weeds remain unquantified in agricultural landscapes. Therefore, we GPS-tagged 31 greylag geese Anser anser and collected 300 faecal samples from feeding flocks in seven agricultural habitats (four cereals, hayfields, pasture, and strawberries) across two landscapes in southern Sweden. We identified intact seeds, determined key plant traits, and tested three hypotheses: (1) geese ingest, transport, and egest seeds from a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic plants, including weeds and alien species; (2) the community and trait composition of plant seeds in faeces vary between habitat types; and (3) seed dispersal by geese is a directional dispersal mechanism that connects some habitat types more than others. We recovered 131 seeds from 41 plant species (19 families), including nine agricultural weeds and one alien species. Many seeds were from aquatic plants (45%), dispersed into terrestrial habitats. A connectivity network formed between habitat types (as nodes) and direct flights (as links) revealed that all agricultural habitats were directly connected with each other, although 66% of flights were between aquatic and agricultural habitats. Geese spent most time at lakes (34%), pastures (14%), barley (10%) and wheat (8%) fields, which were also the most interconnected habitats, with high seed species richness and seed abundance in faecal samples. Combining waterfowl movement data with faecal analysis provided support for all three hypotheses. Geese may contribute to previously overlooked agricultural conflicts through weed dispersal. Proximity to aquatic habitats suitable for roosting may increases the use of agricultural habitats, and potentially the seed dispersal into them

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