Advancing our mechanistic understanding of the benefits of seed dispersal by frugivores

Advancing our mechanistic understanding of the benefits of seed dispersal by frugivores

Plants are sessile organisms that benefit from their mutualistic interaction with frugivores that provide seed dispersal services in exchange for food resources. Ecologists have repeatedly documented increased levels of germination success when seeds are ingested by frugivores but our knowledge on this beneficial interaction is phenomenological lacking a mechanistic understanding of the processes that underly observed increased germination when seeds are ingested. This project aims to gain a mechanistic understanding underlying the increased germination levels based on a set of experiments to elucidate whether increased germinability is due to: (i) physical changes in the external seed walls caused by peristaltic movements (physical effect); (ii) physical changes in the external seed walls caused gastric acids (chemical effect); (iii) ingestion modifies the bacterial community that covers seeds walls; or (iv) a combination of some of the factors mentioned above. Animal-dispersed fruits native to the UK will be collected in the field during June and July by the PI of the project. Seeds will be subjected to different experimental treatments in the lab (RHUL) and in an experimental aviary in campus with a breeding population of pigeons. We will assess changes in the seed walls using a spectral imaging videometer available in our lab (www.videometer.com). Germination trials will quantify the time to germination and the size of the seedlings after 6 weeks in the greenhouse (RHUL). We will extract the DNA of the external seed walls for further analysis on the composition of the microbial community.

Ideally the student should be able to come RHUL campus at least once a week where the green house facilities are placed. Basic knowledge on sampling design is required and basic knowledge of R (data analysis and plotting) is desirable, or willingness to learn to work with R.


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