Skip to main content Accessibility help

Sheep gut passage and survival of Mediterranean shrub seeds

  • Pablo Manzano (a1), Juan E. Malo (a1) and Begoña Peco (a1)


Although viable seeds of Mediterranean dry-fruited shrubs are found in herbivore dung, the ecological importance of this observation is still not well understood. We analysed seed retrieval percentages, defecation time and germinability after sheep gut passage for the five most common shrub species of an area in central Spain (Retama sphaerocarpa, Cytisus scoparius, Halimium umbellatum subsp. viscosum, Cistus ladanifer and Lavandula stoechas subsp. pedunculata). Five ewes were fed seeds, and their dung was collected regularly during the following week. Seeds were hand-sorted from dung subsamples and tested for germinability. The defecated seeds were clustered in time, with a majority retrieved in the 24–40 h period, although over 1% of the seeds were retained in the gut for more than 72 h. Data suggested a possible link between seed size and retrieval, with medium-sized seeds less damaged (16–23%) than larger and smaller seeds (10–12%), although only a small number of species were studied. Germination results showed an increased percentage of germination after gut passage for H. umbellatum (x2 test, P<0.05) and a marginally significant difference for C. scoparius (P<0.1). Soft-seeded L. stoechas did not germinate after gut passage. The results indicate a potential role of herbivore endozoochory for the long-distance dispersal of dry-fruited shrubs and their potential colonization of distant sites.


Corresponding author

*Correspondence: Fax: +34 91 497 8001, Email:


Hide All
Azcárate, F.M. (2003) Hormigas granívoras en pastizales y matorrales mediterráneos: interacciones y efectos sobre la vegetación. PhD thesis, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
Baskin, C.C., Baskin, J.M. (2001) Seeds. Ecology, biogeography, and evolution of dormancy and germination San Diego, Academic Press.
Bellingham, P.J., Coomes, D.A. (2003) Grazing and community structure as determinants of invasion success by Scotch broom in a New Zealand montane shrubland. Diversity and Distributions 9, 1928.
Bossard, C.C. (1993) Seed germination in the exotic shrub Cytisus scoparius (Scotch broom) in California. Madroño 40, 4761.
Bullock, J.M., Clarke, R.T. (2000) Long distance dispersal by wind: measuring and modelling the tail of the curve. Oecologia 124, 506521.
Cain, M.L., Damman, H., Muir, A. (1998) Seed dispersal and the Holocene migration of woodland herbs. Ecological Monographs 68, 325347.
Cain, M.L., Milligan, B.G., Strand, A.E. (2000) Long-distance seed dispersal in plant populations. American Journal of Botany 87, 12171227.
Campbell, J.E., Gibson, D.J. (2001) The effect of seeds of exotic species transported via horse dung on vegetation along trail corridors. Plant Ecology 157, 2335.
Castro, J., Robles, A.B. (2003) Dispersión endozoócora por ganado ovino de las semillas de seis especies de cistáceas. pp. 645650. in Robles, A.B.;, Ramos, M.E.;, Morales, M.C.;, de Simón, E.;, González-Rebollar, J.L.;, Boza, J.; (Eds) Pastos, desarrollo y conservación. Sevilla, Spain, Junta de Andalucía.
Catalán, G. (1991) Semillas de árboles y arbustos forestales Madrid, Spain, ICONA.
Chavagnat, A. (1978) Étude de la germination des semences de Lavandula angustifolia au laboratoire. Seed Science and Technology 6, 775784.
Delgado, J.A., Serrano, J.M., López, F., Acosta, F.J. (2001) Heat shock, mass-dependent germination, and seed yield as related components of fitness in Cistus ladanifer. Environmental and Experimental Botany 46, 1120.
DeSimone, S.A., Zedler, P.H. (2001) Do shrub colonizers of Southern Californian grassland fit generalities for other woody colonizers?. Ecological Applications 11, 11011111.
Gardener, C.J., McIvor, J.G., Jansen, A. (1993) Survival of seeds of tropical grassland species subjected to bovine digestion. Journal of Applied Ecology 30, 7585.
Herranz, J.M., Ferrandis, P., Martínez-Sánchez, J.J. (2000) Influence of heat on seed germination of nine woody Cistaceae species. International Journal of Wildland Fire 9, 173182.
Janzen, D.H. (1983) The dispersal of seeds by vertebrate guts Coevolution. pp. 232262. Futuyma, D.J.;, Slatkin, M. (Eds) Sunderland, Massachussets, USA, Sinauer Associates.
Janzen, D.H. (1984) Dispersal of small seeds by big herbivores: foliage is the fruit. American Naturalist 123, 338353.
Keeley, J.E. (1991) Seed gemination and life history syndromes in the California chaparral. Botanical Review 57, 81116.
Klein, J. (1981) La Mesta 2nd edition. Madrid, Spain, Alianza Editorial.
Maher, J., Gerasopoulos, D., Maloupa, E. (2000) Temperature and light effects on germination of Lavandula stoechas seeds. Acta Horticulturae 541, 261264.
Malo, J.E. (2004) Potential ballistic dispersal of Cytisus scoparius ( Fabaceae ) seeds. Australian Journal of Botany 52, 653658.
Malo, J.E., Suárez, F. (1996) Cistus ladanifer recruitment – Not only fire, but also deer. Acta Oecologica 17, 5560.
Pakeman, R.J. (2001) Plant migration rates and seed dispersal mechanisms. Journal of Biogeography 28, 795800.
Pakeman, R.J., Digneffe, G., Small, J.L. (2002) Ecological correlates of endozoochory by herbivores. Functional Ecology 16, 296304.
Pérez-Fernández, M.A., Rodríguez-Echeverría, S. (2003) Effect of smoke, charred wood, and nitrogenous compounds on seed germination of ten species from woodland in Central–Western Spain. Journal of Chemical Ecology 29, 237251.
Pérez-Fernández, M.A., Rodríguez-Echeverría, S., Calvo-Magro, E., David-Antonio, C. (2003) Germination of selected perennial plant species from western Spain under nitrogen, light and wet and dry heat treatments. Journal of Mediterranean Ecology 4, 2333.
Pérez-García, F. (1997) Germination of Cistus ladanifer seeds in relation to parent material. Plant Ecology 133, 5762.
Pérez-García, F., Hornero, J., González-Benito, M.E. (2003) Interpopulation variation in seed germination of five Mediterranean Labiatae shrubby species. Israel Journal of Plant Sciences 51, 117124.
Rivals, F., Kacimi, S., Moutoussamy, J. (2004) Artiodactyls, favourite game of prehistoric hunters at the Caune de l'Arago Cave (Tautavel, France). Opportunistic or selective hunting strategies?. European Journal of Wildlife Research 50, 2532.
Russi, L., Cocks, P.S., Roberts, E.H. (1992) The fate of legume seeds eaten by sheep from a Mediterranean grassland. Journal of Applied Ecology 29, 772778.
Sánchez, A.M. (2002) Colonización y regeneración de Lavandula stoechas subsp. pedunculata en un paisaje agrario abandonado de la Sierra de Guadarrama. PhD Thesis, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
Sánchez, A.M., Peco, B. (2002) Dispersal mechanisms in Lavandula stoechas subsp. pedunculata: autochory and endozoochory by sheep. Seed Science Research 12, 101111.
Staniforth, R.J., Cavers, P.B. (1977) The importance of cottontail rabbits in the dispersal of Polygonum spp. Journal of Applied Ecology 14, 261268.
Tárrega, R., Calvo, L., Trabaud, L. (1992) Effect of high-temperatures on seed-germination of two woody Leguminosae. Vegetatio 102, 139147.
Thanos, C.A., Georghiou, K., Kadis, C., Pantazi, C. (1992) Cistaceae: a plant family with hard seeds. Israel Journal of Botany 41, 251263.
Traveset, A., Verdú, M. (2002) A meta-analysis of the effect of gut treatment on seed germination. pp. 339350. Levey, D.J.;, Silva, W.R.;, Galetti, M. (Eds) Seed dispersal and frugivory: Ecology, evolution and conservation. Wallingford, CABI Publishing.
Valbuena, L., Luis-Calabuig, E., Tárrega, R. (2002) Relationship between thermal shock and germination in five Mediterranean shrubs. pp. 9398. Trabaud, L.;, Prodon, R. (Eds) Fire and biological processes. Leiden, The Netherlands, Backhuys.
Wallander, R.T., Olson, B.E., Lacey, J.R. (1995) Spotted knapweed seed viability after passing through sheep and mule deer. Journal of Range Management 48, 145149.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Seed Science Research
  • ISSN: 0960-2585
  • EISSN: 1475-2735
  • URL: /core/journals/seed-science-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed