Human-mediated dispersal of seeds over long distances

Matthias C Wichmann, Matt J Alexander, Merel B Soons, Stephen Galsworthy, Laura Dunne, Robert Gould, Christina Fairfax, Marc Niggemann, Rosie S Hails, James M Bullock

Abstract

Human activities have fundamental impacts on the distribution of species through altered land use, but also directly by dispersal of propagules. Rare long-distance dispersal events have a disproportionate importance for the spread of species including invasions. While it is widely accepted that humans may act as vectors of long-distance dispersal, there are few studies that quantify this process. We studied in detail a mechanism of human-mediated dispersal (HMD). For two plant species we measured, over a wide range of distances, how many seeds are carried by humans on shoes. While over half of the seeds fell off within 5 m, seeds were regularly still attached to shoes after 5 km. Semi-mechanistic models were fitted, and these suggested that long-distance dispersal on shoes is facilitated by decreasing seed detachment probability with distance. Mechanistic modelling showed that the primary vector, wind, was less important as an agent of long-distance dispersal, dispersing seeds less than 250 m. Full dispersal kernels were derived by combining the models for primary dispersal by wind and secondary dispersal by humans. These suggest that walking humans can disperse seeds to very long distances, up to at least 10 km, and provide some of the first quantified dispersal kernels for HMD.

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Footnotes

    • Received August 14, 2008.
    • Accepted September 12, 2008.
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