The role of mucilage envelope in the endozoochory of selected plant taxa

Myxodiaspory (formation of mucilage envelope around seeds and fruits) is a common adaptation to dry habitats known in many families of Angiosperms. The mucilage envelope of some seeds seems to be also a unique morphological adaptation which protects myxospermatic diaspores while passing through the bird's digestive system. To evaluate the protective potential of mucilage, we fed the diaspores of seven plant species (representing three different mucilage types and three species of non-mucilaginous plants) to pigeons, Columba livia domestica. Twenty-four hours later, we collected the droppings of pigeons and examined a total of 18,900 non-destroyed diaspores to check for mucilage presence and germination ability. Out of all the examined diaspores, 4.5% were mucilaginous seeds. Among them, the highest number (12.2-13.5%) of viable diaspores belonged to the hemicellulosic type of mucilage (from Plantago species). Only 3.7% of germinating diaspores with pectic mucilage (Linum usitatissimum) were collected, and no seeds representing cellulosic mucilage (e.g., Ocimum basilicum). For non-mucilaginous plants, we collected only a few individual seeds (0.1% out of 8100 seeds used). We noted that the mucilaginous seeds found in the droppings were able to germinate; however, the germination ability was generally smaller in comparison to the control (i.e., not digested) seeds. Our results revealed that the presence of mucilage envelope has an impact on diaspore dispersal and survivability. With our experiments, we demonstrated for the first time that the mucilage envelope, especially of the non-cellulosic type, supports endozoochory. We also showed that non-mucilaginous seeds can be occasionally dispersed via endozoochory and are able to germinate. The results of our studies can explain the ways of plants distribution at a small, local scale as well as in long-distance dispersal, e.g., between islands or even continents.


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