Miguel Hernández University (UMH) of Elche researcher, Esther Sebastián González, has taken part in an international study of duck populations in the United Kingdom, France and Spain that concludes that ducks play an unknown and, at the same time, essential role in the dispersal of seeds. The research has been accepted for publication in the specialist magazine, Functional Ecology. Scientific literature attributes the role of seed dispersal to birds that eat fleshy fruit (frugivores). However, this research has shown that this valuable function is also performed by ducks and this is based on an analysis of the diet of duck populations inhabiting the Ebro Delta, the Ouse Washes (United Kingdom), as well as the wetlands of Champagne and Camargue (France). UMH researcher, Esther Sebastián, explained that ten species of ducks, including coots and moorhens, were compared and it was found that, in four selected natural sites, they disperse up to 88 different types of plant. The seeds are dispersed and may end up germinating due to a phenomenon as natural as it is simple: some time after being ingested, they are excreted intact (endozoochory) somewhere more or less far away. Despite the differences existing between the ducks with respect to the size, shape and length of their beaks (some dive while others partially submerge themselves), there were no differences in the plants that they help to reproduce since they play a “similar role” as seed dispersers.
According to UMH researcher, Sebastián González, it was not widely known that ducks that swim or dive under water and other aquatic birds helped in plant reproduction, but it turns out that they are, mainly varieties without fleshy fruits
According to UMH researcher, Sebastián González, it was not widely known that ducks that swim or dive under water and other aquatic birds helped in plant reproduction, but it turns out that they are, mainly varieties without fleshy fruits. They do so for flora present in lakes and ponds, but they also disperse small seeds, from meadows, grassy areas, and other trees present in wetland environments, to new places.
“Some aquatic birds undertake longer migrations or migrate more frequently and others migrate at different times of the year and between different locations, whereby each has a unique role to play when it comes to dispersing seeds at greater or lesser distances”, explained Esther Sebastián.
This study adds to the growing evidence of the important role played by aquatic birds in the dispersal of seeds, which increases their importance in the biological chain. Experts believe that long-distance migrations could have very significant consequences for helping plants deal with global processes such as climate change or the propagation of invasive species. Esther Sebastián pointed out that, as with ducks, it should be a priority to identify “the characteristics that define which plants are dispersed” by other aquatic birds such as beach birds, gulls and piscivores, including herons. Also taking part in the study were, Adám Lovas-Kiss, from the Ecological Research Centre of Debrecen (Hungary); Merel B. Soons Bas van den Broek, from the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands); and Andy J. Green, from the Biological Station of Doñana (EBD-CSIC), in Seville. EFE.