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New discovery: Endangered Amami rabbit disperses seeds for non-photosynthetic plant

Date:
January 23, 2023
Source:
Kobe University
Summary:
Seed dispersal is an essential process for the evolution and ecology of terrestrial plants, making discoveries of uncommon seed dispersal agents particularly interesting. Scientists now reveal that the Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi) is a major seed dispersal agent for the non-photosynthetic plant Balanophora yuwanensis. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first known instance of rabbits serving as seed dispersal agents in Asia.
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The iconic yet endangered Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi) has been shown to play a key role in seed dispersal for the non-photosynthetic plant Balanophora yuwanensis*1. This discovery, made by Professor SUETSUGU Kenji and graduate student Mr. HASHIWAKI Hiromu of Kobe University's Graduate School of Science, sheds light on the previously unknown ecological role of the world's only dark-furred wild rabbit. Despite being the flagship species of the Ryukyu Archipelago, little is known about the ecology of the Amami rabbit because it is a rare, nocturnal animal that inhabits dense forests on two subtropical islands. These findings will be published on January 23, 2023 in the journal Ecology.

Seed dispersal is an essential process for the evolution and ecology of terrestrial plants, making discoveries of uncommon seed dispersal agents particularly interesting. Researchers had previously been puzzled about how the seeds of the non-photosynthetic, mushroom-like Balanophora plants, which have some of the smallest fruits among angiosperms, were dispersed. Suetsugu & Hashiwaki observed feeding marks on Balanophora yuwanensis plants on Amami-Oshima Island in Japan, which they suspected were made by the Amami rabbit.

To investigate this hypothesis, Suetsugu & Hashiwaki conducted a study in the understory of dense forests on Amami-Oshima. Using infrared-triggered cameras, they observed that the Amami rabbit was the main consumer of B. yuwanensis fruit. In addition, all Amami rabbit fecal samples collected in the field contained at least some viable B. yuwanensis seeds, providing novel evidence of the illusive rabbit species' role as a seed dispersal agent. Balanophora yuwanensis is a host-specific obligate parasite, which means that efficient seed transportation likely requires the seed to be deposited near the roots of a compatible host. The Amami rabbit may facilitate this through digging and defecating underground in burrows.

Intriguingly,the Amami rabbitis a seed dispersal agent for B. yuwanensis even though the plant produces dry fruits, whereas seed dispersers are typically incentivized by fleshy fruits. The rare rabbit species consumed both dry fruits and vegetative tissue from B. yuwanensis. This is notable because the potential role of rabbits as seed dispersers has largely been overlooked due to their diet, which primarily consists of leaves rather than fruits. However, this study reveals thatthe Amami rabbitserves as a major seed disperser for B. yuwanensis, incentivized by the plant's vegetative tissue.

This research also highlights the previously unrecognized ecological role of the endangered Amami rabbitas a seed dispersal agent, and suggests that the species may have other functions yet to be discovered.

Glossary

*1Balanophora yuwanensis: Balanophora yuwanensis is often considered the same species as B. yakushimensis, which is found on Yakushima Island in Japan. However, B. yakushimensis seems to live on different plants depending on where it is found. On Yakushima it lives on one type of plant, but on Amami-Oshima Island and Taiwan it lives on other plants. This may mean that B. yakushimensis s.l. is made up of several different species. Therefore, here we use the scientific name B. yuwanensis to clarify that our ecological data came from the Balanophora plants on Amami-Oshima Island.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Kobe University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kenji Suetsugu, Hiromu Hashiwaki. A non‐photosynthetic plant provides the endangered Amami rabbit with vegetative tissues as a reward for seed dispersal. Ecology, 2023; DOI: 10.1002/ecy.3972

Cite This Page:

Kobe University. "New discovery: Endangered Amami rabbit disperses seeds for non-photosynthetic plant." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 January 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/01/230123123306.htm>.
Kobe University. (2023, January 23). New discovery: Endangered Amami rabbit disperses seeds for non-photosynthetic plant. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/01/230123123306.htm
Kobe University. "New discovery: Endangered Amami rabbit disperses seeds for non-photosynthetic plant." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/01/230123123306.htm (accessed July 24, 2024).

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