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The role of the elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the tree squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi) in marula (Sclerocarya birrea) seed predation, dispersal and germination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 February 2012

Jeremy J. Midgley
Affiliation:
Botany Department, University of Cape Town, P. Bag Rondebosch, 7701South Africa
Kirsten Gallaher
Affiliation:
Botany Department, University of Cape Town, P. Bag Rondebosch, 7701South Africa
Laurence M. Kruger
Affiliation:
Botany Department, University of Cape Town, P. Bag Rondebosch, 7701South Africa Organization for Tropical Studies, Kruger National Park, P.O. Box 33, Skukuza, 1350, South Africa
Corresponding
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Extract

The marula (Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) Hochst., Anacardiaceae) has a strongly lignified endocarp or stone which contains several seeds, each of which is within its own locule that is sealed by an individual operculum (Figure 1). The strong casing prevents germination, not by preventing the passage of water to the seeds, but by preventing oxygen from reaching the seeds (von Teichman et al. 1985). It is well known that marula fruits taken from the dung of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana Blumenbach) have more rapid germination than those that have not been eaten by elephants (Dudley 2000, Lewis 1987). This positive impact of elephants on marula germination continues to be considered to be through acid treatment in the digestion system of the elephant (Helm et al. 2011). We hypothesize that the primary mechanism which favours germination is mastication by elephants which physically loosens the opercula, rather than digestive dissolution of the stone. If true, the relevance of this is that only elephants would be the legitimate dispersers of marula seeds, because none of the many other species that are attracted to marula fruits would have jaws powerful enough to loosen the opercula.

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Short Communication
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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References

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The role of the elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the tree squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi) in marula (Sclerocarya birrea) seed predation, dispersal and germination
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