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Frugivory and seed dispersal by a small carnivore, the Chinese ferret-badger,Melogale moschata, in a fragmented subtropical forest of central China

Authors
Journal
Forest Ecology and Management
0378-1127
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
255
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2007.11.018
Keywords
  • Carnivore
  • Melogale Moschata
  • Forest Recruitment
  • Endozoochorus
  • Fruit Selection
  • Germination
  • Seed Dispersal
  • Seed Passage Time

Abstract

Abstract The capacity for the Chinese ferret-badger ( Melogale moschata), a small carnivorous mustelid mammal, as a frugivore and endozoochorous seed disperser was evaluated over the main fruiting period during 2 years of study in a fragmented subtropical forest of central China. Seeds of eight plant species were dispersed by M. moschata, based on the analysis of the 163 faecal samples. Three forest types were sampled; one subject to commercial clear-cut logging, the second a selectively logged site and the third a natural primary forest habitat. The proportion of seed-bearing faecal samples was greatest amongst those collected from the primary forest, with the selectively logged and clear-cut habitats having a lower frequency of seed-bearing faeces, respectively. Ferret-badgers mainly defecated in open habitats, however the proportion of seed-bearing faeces did not differ according to the type of cover present at the deposition sites. Ferret-badgers selected fleshy-fruited and seed-pulp rich species. Significantly, selection was found for the large-seeded species, Diospyros lotus, however, they chose to consume the smaller seeds from this plant. Seed passage time through the gut ranged between 0.8 and 5.9 h. No significant individual-specific differences were detected in the passage time for the different fleshy fruits. Five out of six dominant species had seeds germinate successfully from faecal samples. Only the germination of D. lotus seeds were lower than expected by comparison to the control seeds. By contrast, ingested seeds of Hovenia dulcis had higher germination rates than in control samples, but no statistical differences were detected. These findings indicated that ferret-badgers were legitimate (they defecated viable seeds), but inefficient dispersers (seeds in faeces were mainly deposited on open sites which were regarded as “unsafe microsites” for seed germination and seedling establishment). In order to fully understand the role of M. moschata in forest recruitment and regeneration, quantitative research on their efficiency as endozoochorous seed dispersers and the effects of their digging activities on the seed bank and seedling survival should be undertaken, focusing on sites degraded by forestry operations, especially in badly affected sites.

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