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Data from: Seed ingestion and germination in rattlesnakes: overlooked agents of rescue and secondary dispersal


Reiserer, Randall S.; Schuett, Gordon W.; Greene, Harry W. (2018), Data from: Seed ingestion and germination in rattlesnakes: overlooked agents of rescue and secondary dispersal, Dryad, Dataset,


Seed dispersal is a key evolutionary process and a central theme in the population ecology of terrestrial plants. The primary producers of most land-based ecosystems are propagated by and maintained through various mechanisms of seed dispersal that involve both abiotic and biotic modes of transportation. By far the most common biotic seed transport mechanism is zoochory, whereby seeds, or fruits containing them, are dispersed through the activities of animals. Rodents are one group of mammals that commonly prey on seeds (granivores) and play a critical, often destructive, role in primary dispersal and the dynamics of plant communities. In North America, geomyid, heteromyid and some sciurid rodents have specialized cheek pouches for transporting seeds from plant source to larder, where they are often eliminated from the pool of plant propagules by consumption. These seed-laden rodents are commonly consumed by snakes as they forage, but unlike raptors, coyotes, bobcats, and other endothermic predators which eat rodents and are known or implicated to be secondary seed dispersers, the role of snakes in seed dispersal remains unexplored. Here, using museum-preserved specimens, we show that in nature three desert-dwelling rattlesnake species consumed heteromyids with seeds in their cheek pouches. By examining the entire gut we discovered, furthermore, that secondarily ingested seeds can germinate in rattlesnake colons. In terms of secondary dispersal, rattlesnakes are best described as diplochorous. Because seed rescue and secondary dispersal in snakes has yet to be investigated, and because numerous other snake species consume granivorous and frugivorous birds and mammals, our observations offer direction for further empirical studies of this unusual but potentially important channel for seed dispersal.

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