How spitting goats help trees to grow

Tree-climbing ruminants in Morocco may be giving seedlings a better chance of survival. 

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Scientists have found the tree-climbing goats benefit argan trees

Spanish ecologists studying arboreal goats in Morocco have discovered that the animals could be benefiting argan trees by spitting.

“Many previous studies that investigated the role of ruminants as seed dispersers were based exclusively on dung analyses and may have underestimated an important fraction of the total number of dispersed seeds,” said the researchers.

The ecologists were originally working on seed dispersal by other mammals (mainly fox and badger).

“We found seed dispersal by goats, through spitting from the cud, rather by chance while talking with shepherds,” said Miguel Delibes, lead author of the study. “Then, our interest was born.”

The goats climb the trees to eat the fruit and while chewing their cud they spit the seeds out, delivering clean seeds to the ground wherever they have wandered.

It was previously thought that the undigested argan seeds passed through the goats and were expelled during defecation but argan seeds are large (22mm long and 15mm wide).

Spitting goats are perhaps a vital way of spreading seeds for this tree species as gaining distance from the parent tree is more promising for the seedlings.

Read the full paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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