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Donkeys as mobile links for plant seed dispersal in coastal dune ecosystems
Couvreur, M.; Cosyns, E.; Lamoot, I.; Verheyen, K.; Hoffmann, M.; Hermy, M. (2005). Donkeys as mobile links for plant seed dispersal in coastal dune ecosystems, in: Herrier, J.-L. et al. (Ed.) (2005). Proceedings 'Dunes and Estuaries 2005': International Conference on nature restoration practices in European coastal habitats, Koksijde, Belgium 19-23 September 2005. VLIZ Special Publication, 19: pp. 279-290
In: Herrier, J.-L. et al. (Ed.) (2005). Proceedings 'Dunes and Estuaries 2005': International Conference on nature restoration practices in European coastal habitats, Koksijde, Belgium 19-23 September 2005. VLIZ Special Publication, 19. Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee (VLIZ): Oostende. XIV, 685 pp., more
In: VLIZ Special Publication. Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee (VLIZ): Oostende. ISSN 1377-0950, more

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Keywords
    Dispersal; Dispersion; Grazing; Herbivores; Seeds; Belgium, Flanders [gazetteer]; Terrestrial

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Abstract
    Long-distance seed dispersal is a key factor in vegetation dynamics, especially in highly dynamic ecosystems such as dune landscapes. To assess the role of large herbivores in long-distance seed dispersal in dunes, we examined epi- and endozoochory by free-ranging donkeys, released for grazing in a Flemish dune nature reserve. At least 29, respectively 53, plant species were dispersed epi- and endozoochorously by the donkeys. Comparison of the species with the local vegetation using dispersal-relevant plant traits, showed that epi- and endozoochory are additive and complementary dispersal mechanisms, epizoochory being restricted to a narrower range of dispersal-functional plant types. To estimate potential dispersal distances of the seeds, we used empirical studies of the movement and behaviour of the donkeys, in combination with experimental epi- and endozoochorous seed retention times of selected plant species in the dune reserve. The mean potential dispersal distances indicated that the donkeys disperse seeds over the entire 100ha nature reserve, hereby providing a mobile link function between fragmented dune habitats for at least 20% of the local plant species. The influence of large herbivores on dune vegetation dynamics through seed dispersal should be considered in nature management decisions.

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