The farming industry has had a strange relationship with ecology over the years. They have been maligned by claims they shoot native species, suck up water greedily from nature and the people, and pollute our countryside with pesticides, all whilst producing the food many of us subsist on. So why haven’t ecologists worked with them more closely?
At the recent NØF 2019 Conference, Tanja Petersen and I sat down with Canadian ecologist Professor Andrew MacDougall, who has been working with the farming industry for the past six years to quantify their contribution to ecosystem services. We talked about the often damaging public perception of farmers, how his stereotypes were challenged by working with them, and the biggest problems the industry will face heading into the next fifty years.
The sidewinder rattlesnake, one of many snakes that inadvertently transports seeds by swallowing small herbivores (Image Credit: Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0)
Seed ingestion and germination in rattlesnakes: overlooked agents of rescue and secondary dispersal (2018) Reiserer et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, DOI:10.1098/rspb.2017.2755
Plants depend on outside forces to disperse their seeds away from the parent plant, and the most common way is via a process called zoochory, where animals spread the seeds. This can be due to seeds being stuck onto the fur of an animal, animals taking and storing the seeds in a different location, or when an animal eats the fruit and later defecates the seeds.
One indirect way in which seeds are dispersed is when a predator, such as a coyote, raptor, or bobcat, consumes an animal (like a mouse) that had seeds in its stomach or cheek pouches. Rattlesnakes commonly consume small rodents that carry seeds in cheek pouches, and though these snakes are known to eat these seed-carrying animals, their own role in seed dispersal remains largely unknown. In order to learn more, the researchers in this study dissected museum specimens to search for secondarily-consumed seeds.