Cattle as dispersal vectors of invasive and introduced plants in a California annual grassland.
Plant invasions are a threat to rangelands in California. Understanding how seeds of invasive plants are dispersed is critical to developing sound management plans. Domestic livestock can transport seeds long distances by ingesting and passing seeds in dung (endozoochory) or by the attachment of seeds to skin and fur (epizoochory). Our objective was to characterize the role of cattle as seed dispersers of both invasive and noninvasive species via endozoochory and epizoochory in a Sierra foothills rangeland. To quantify endozoochory, we sampled dung from two dry-season grazing periods and evaluated seed content by growing dung for 3 months in a greenhouse. To quantify epizoochory, we collected seeds directly from the fur of 40 cattle. We categorized the invasion status and functional groups of all species found and quantified landscape-scale vegetation composition in order to determine whether dispersal mode was associated with functional group, invasion status, or vegetation composition. Finally, we evaluated the potential for the noxious weed medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae [L.] Nevski) to travel long distances on cattle fur using a detachment experiment with a model cow. We found that forbs were more likely to be dispersed by endozoochory, and invasive species were more likely to be dispersed by epizoochory. Medusahead was dispersed exclusively by epizoochory and was able to travel up to 160 m on a model cow. Our results suggest that cattle may be an important dispersal vector for both invasive and noninvasive plants.