Bryophyte dispersal by sheep on dry grassland
Pauliuk, Franziska; Müller, Jörg; Heinken, Thilo
Many bryophytes may depend on epizoochorous dispersal by large mammals for maintaining their populations and colonizing new habitats. On dry grassland we investigated the transport of bryophyte diaspores by sheep, which are known to be effective epizoochorous dispersal vectors of seed plants. Twelve sheep of two breeds were examined by collecting gametophyte fragments from their fleece and hooves. Furthermore, microscopic diaspores from the soil adhering to the hooves were grown in a greenhouse. Species frequency and composition were compared to bryophyte vegetation on the pasture. Considerable amounts of unspecialized gametophyte fragments from 16 moss species, 40% of the species growing on the pasture, were transported by sheep, especially on the belly and the tail. Additionally, we provide first evidence of epizoochorous dispersal of thallus fragments from fruticose lichens. Sheep breeds differed in species spectrum and frequency, i.e.sheep with dense, curly fleece carried more fragments and larger species than those with smooth and fine hair. Among the dispersed bryophytes pleurocarps, certain taxa, sizes (small species) and life forms (mats) were overrepresented compared to the vegetation of the pasture, while large species, acrocarps, wefts and turfs were underrepresented, reflecting fragmentation and adhesion features of the species. In the hooves mostly acrocarpous colonist species were transported. We conclude that sheep are important dispersal vectors with the potential of long-range dispersal for bryophytes, especially for species without sexual reproduction, and that epizoochorous dispersal of microscopic diaspores might be underestimated in its importance so far.