Are seeds adapted to long gut retention times? Acta Oecologica: International Journal of Ecology 67, 59-65
The degree of seed scarification in the frugivore gut, partly dependent on gut retention time, is a key component in determining the extent to which gut passage alters germination performances. Another potential benefit of gut passage arises as a result of the removal of fruit pulp which otherwise may act as a germination inhibitor. Using experiments designed to disentangle the respective effects of pulp removal (germination deinhibition) and seed scarification, and gut retention time as an explanatory variable, we investigated the effect of gut passage on germination performances (percentage and latency) of five tropical tree species dispersed by the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla g. gorilla). The percentage of seeds germinating after gut passage increased for three species, respectively, through the effects of scarification only, deinhibition only, and scarification and deinhibition combined. A negative scarification effect was observed for one species, and no effect of gut passage for another. Passage through the gut led to a decrease in germination latency of three species, as a result of the depulping of seeds. However, seed scarification resulted in germination delays for another species. The gut retention time of the five species averaged 39e56 h and had no effect on intra-specific germination performances except for one species whose germination probability increased as gut retention time increased. As gut retention time often correlates with dispersal distance, the fact that gut retention time per se does not reduce seed viability of these tropical tree species may have positive implications for their population dynamics and maintenance of genetic diversity. If no detrimental effect of gut retention time on germination performance is a general trait among tropical species, the extirpation of large frugivores with long gut retention time, such as the western lowland gorilla, would likely have negative long-term implications for tropical forests.