Ecology and evolution

Molecular approach to describing a seed-based food web: the post-dispersal granivore community of an invasive plant.

PMID 23789074


Communities of post-dispersal granivores can shape the density and dispersion of exotic plants and invasive weeds, yet plant ecologists have a limited perception of the relative trophic linkages between a seed species and members of its granivore community. Dandelion seeds marked with Rabbit IgG were disseminated into replicated plots in the recipient habitat (South Dakota) and the native range (Czech Republic). Arthropods were collected in pitfall traps, and their guts were searched for the protein marker using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Seed dishes were placed in each plot, and dandelion seed removal rates were measured. The entire experiment was repeated five times over the dandelion flowering period. Gut analysis revealed that approximately 22% of specimens tested positive for the seed marker. A more diverse granivore community had trophic linkages to seeds than has been previously realized under field conditions. This community included taxa such as isopods, millipedes, weevils, rove beetles, and caterpillars, in addition to the traditionally recognized ants, crickets, and carabid beetles. Rarefaction and Chao analysis estimated approximately 16 and 27 species in the granivore communities of the Czech Republic and South Dakota, respectively. Generalist granivore communities are diverse and polyphagous, and are clearly important as a form of biotic resistance to invasive and weedy plants. These granivore communities can be managed to limit population growth of these pests.