Assessing the diet and seed dispersal ability of non-native sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) in native ecosystems of south-eastern Australia

Quin, Matthew J., Morgan, John W., and Murphy, Nicholas P. (2023) Assessing the diet and seed dispersal ability of non-native sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) in native ecosystems of south-eastern Australia. Ecology and Evolution, 13 (11). e10711.

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Abstract

Understanding the influence of non-native herbivores on ecosystems by means of dietary foraging and seed dispersal is important for understanding how non-native species can alter an invaded landscape, yet requires multiple methodologies. In south-eastern Australia, introduced sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) are rapidly expanding in range and placing native ecosystems at risk through browsing and as vectors for seed dispersal. We simultaneously investigated sambar deer dietary composition and seed dispersal using DNA sequencing and germination trials, from faecal pellets collected in alpine and wet forest ecosystems. This allowed us to contrast the dietary impacts of introduced sambar deer in different environments, and to explore the potential for habitat-specific variation in diet. DNA sequencing of the trnL, ITS2 and rbcL gene regions revealed a diverse plant species dietary composition comprising 1003 operational taxonomic units (OTUs). Sambar deer exhibited intermediate feeder behaviours dominated by forbs in alpine and shrubs in wet forest ecosystems. A large proportion of plant OTUs were considered likely to be native, however, the proportion of exotic species in the diet in both ecosystems was greater than would be expected based on the proportion of exotic species in each of the two landscapes. Seed germination trials indicated that sambar deer can disperse a substantial number of native and exotic species in both alpine and wet forest ecosystems. In alpine ecosystems, an individual sambar deer was estimated to disperse on average 816 (±193) seeds per day during the study period, of which 652 (±176) were exotic. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that native plant species comprise the majority of sambar deer diets in Australian ecosystems and that the introduced species is dispersing both native and exotic plant species via endozoochory. However, exotic species seedling germination numbers were significantly higher in alpine ecosystems, and given the large daily movements of sambar deer, represents a significant vector for the spread of exotic plant species. Management of native plant species and vegetation communities of conservation significance, or at risk to sambar deer browsing is of high priority, through either the removal of sambar deer or implementation of exclusion-based methods.

Item ID: 81431
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2045-7758
Keywords: alpine, DNA sequencing, endozoochory, faecal DNA, germination, invasive plant species, native plant species, wet forest
Copyright Information: © 2023 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2024 03:07
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3109 Zoology > 310904 Animal diet and nutrition @ 50%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310308 Terrestrial ecology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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