After birds eat a wild chili pepper, more seeds grow.
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.