Small mammals as potential seed dispersers in New Zealand.
Weed invasion success is strongly influenced by availability of seed dispersal vectors, which may include animals. We examined the potential of several small introduced mammals (mice, kiore, ship rats and possums) to disperse germinable seeds in New Zealand. Captive animals were fed fleshy fruit of weeds (Berberis glaucocarpa, Cotoneaster spp., Crataegus monogyna, Ilex aquifolium, Leycesteria formosa, Ligustrum sinense, Lonicera japonica, Passiflora mollissima, Pyracantha angustifolia, Sorbus hupehensis) and native species (Coprosma spp., Prumnopitys ferruginea and Solanum aviculare). We recorded the percentage of fruit consumed, seed ingested and gut passage time. Faeces were collected and the seeds extracted and tested for germination potential in an unheated glasshouse (two weed species) or under controlled conditions (11 species). The smallest rodents (mice and kiore) generally destroyed all seeds eaten. Large numbers of viable seeds of the small-seeded (<1 mg) species, L. formosa and S. aviculare, passed through ship rats. Possums consumed the seeds of all adventive and native fruits except P. ferruginea. The proportion of seeds recovered intact from possum faeces varied with plant species and ranged from 6 to 83%. The time required for 50% of all seeds to be passed by possums ranged from 2.5 to 5.5 days with an average of 3.7 days, and was generally unrelated to simple fruit parameters such as percentage pulp and moisture content. For seeds where germination also occurred in the uneaten controls, the germination of seed from possums ranged from 3 to 78%. Germination was mostly lower in seeds from possums than in the controls, where differences were significant. Possums have major potential to disperse a wide range of fleshy fruit-producing native and introduced plant species. Ship rats have the potential to disperse those with very small seeds.