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Stockholms Universitet : Deer droppings good for biodiversity

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04/08/2014 | 01:10pm EDT

By collecting deer droppings, and then growing the seeds found within, researchers from Stockholm University have been able to see how deer spread different types of plants.

Alistair Auffret, Post-doctoral researcher, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology

"We found that deer disperse seeds to a much greater extent than we thought. This is good news, since many grassland plants are endangered when natural pastures disappear. Seed dispersal through deer could contribute to biodiversity in the Swedish agricultural landscape", says Alistair Auffret from the Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology.

Natural pastures, which are important for the diversity of plant life, have diminished in Sweden throughout the 20th century. At the same time, the number of deer has increased. The researchers wanted to study whether deer could help disperse seeds from the endangered plants. Alistair Auffret and Jan Plue collected deer droppings from natural pastures and non-arable outcrops on Selaön in Södermanland, after which they cultivated the droppings in greenhouses and were able to see which seeds the deer could disperse.

"We found grassland plants, such as bird's-foot trefoil, yellow bedstraw, and red clover. It is good that these plants are spread, because grassland specialists may have difficulty surviving when the natural pastures disappear. We cannot rely on the deer for the plants' survival, however; we need other measures as well. Besides seed dispersal, it is very important to protect the remaining grasslands", says Alistair Auffret.

For more information contact: 

Alistair Auffret, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, alistair.auffret@natgeo.su.se, 08 674 7568
January Plue, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, jan.plue@natgeo.su.se, 08 674 7884
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