As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Bird Gut Boosts Wild Chili Seed Survival

After birds eat a wild chili pepper, more seeds grow.
Originally published: 
Jul 15 2013 - 4:00pm
Ranjini Raghunath, ISNS Contributor
(ISNS) -- When a South American bird eats a certain wild chili pepper, its gut changes the seeds in ways that may improve the seeds' chances of growing into new pepper plants, a new study suggests. 

Seeds of the wild chili plant Capsicum chacoense that passed through the gut of the Small-billed Elaenia had fewer pathogens and ant-attracting chemical cues, giving them a 370 percent increase in survival rate, according to Evan Fricke, a graduate student at the University of Washington, in Seattle. 

Native to Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay, C. chacoense -- the plant in the study -- produces spicy, red-colored peppers. The Small-billed Elaenia commonly grazes on the peppers, and after digesting them, disperses the seeds around the environment giving the peppers an opportunity to flourish. But the peppers do face a few challenges to survival. Insects can pass fungal infections to the seeds, and ants can pick up and presumably eat the seeds after they are dispersed. 

The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, tested for three factors that could affect the seeds' survival: chemicals from the seeds that attract ants, the seeds' distance from the parent plant, and the seeds' fungal load -- the amount of fungal infection on the seed's outer covering. 

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