Plant Ecology and Evolution 144(1): 106-110, doi: 10.5091/plecevo.2011.472
Scat analysis reveals a wide set of plant species to be potentially dispersed by foxes
expand article infoBram D’Hondt, Lies Vansteenbrugge, Koen Van Den Berge, Jan Bastiaens, Maurice Hoffmann
Open Access
Background and aims – A good understanding of the ways in which seeds are dispersed within landscapes is essential to plant ecology and conservation. Carnivorous mammals can act as vectors in dispersal through ingestion and subsequent excretion of seeds (endozoochory). The red fox (Vulpes vulpes L.) is a predatory species that is markedly opportunistic both in habitat and feeding habits, and occurs widespread in many rural and urbanized regions. Due to their high mobility within and among territories, they could contribute to long-distance seed dispersal on a regular basis. To identify the set of species that are potentially dispersed by foxes, we have analyzed scats from the region of Flanders (Belgium) for seeds. Methods – 303 scats were collected throughout the region during two field campaigns. All seeds were isolated from the scats and identified. Key results – Seeds were present in 57% of the scats. If present, the seed number was mostly low (< 10), yet amounted to 1135 in one sample. 77 taxa were identified. 82% of the seeds belonged to woody plant species with fleshy propagules (drupes or berries), Rubus being the most abundant taxon (64%). In addition, numerous dry-fruited woody, herbaceous, and graminoid taxa were found. Autumn samples contained more, and more often, seeds than spring samples. Conclusions – The diversity of plant types and species encountered in scats clearly reflects the opportunistic habits of foxes, with many species consumed from anthropogenic sources such as cultivated plants or waste material. We suspect an inadvertent intake for most of the dry-fruited species, for instance, through the manipulation of prey. Although wild foxes thus appear to excrete a diverse set of species, their role as effective seed dispersers needs further investigation, primarily concerning the fate of these scat-borne seeds.