Consistent individual differences in seed disperser quality in a seed-eating fish

Bart J.A. Pollux*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Animal-mediated seed dispersal (zoochory) is considered to be an important mechanism regulating biological processes at larger spatial scales. To date, intra-specific variation in seed disperser quality within seed-dispersing animals has not been studied. Here, I employed seed feeding trials to quantify individual differences in disperser quality within the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) using seeds of two aquatic plants: unbranched bur-reed (Sparganium emersum, Sparganiaceae) and arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittifolia, Alismataceae). I found substantial variation among carp individuals in their propensity to ingest seeds and their ability to digest them, resulting in up to 31-fold differences in the probability of seed dispersal. In addition, there were significant differences in the time that seeds are retained in their digestive systems, generating a twofold difference in the maximum distance over which they can potentially disperse seeds. I propose that seed-eating animal species consist of individuals that display continuous variation in disperser quality, with at one end of the continuum individuals that are likely to eat seeds, pass them unharmed through their digestive tract and transport them over large distances to new locations (i.e. high-quality seed dispersers) and at the other end individuals that rarely eat seeds, destroy most of the ones they ingest and transport the few surviving seeds over relatively short distances (low-quality seed dispersers). Although individual differences in seed dispersal quality could be the result of a variety of factors, these results underline the ecological and evolutionary potential of such variation for both plants and animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-91
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Ichthyochory
  • Intra-specific variation
  • Long-distance dispersal
  • Seed retention time
  • Zoochory


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