Frugivory and seed dispersal in the endemic cactus Eulychnia acida: extending the anachronism hypothesis to the Chilean Mediterranean ecosystem.
Background: Eulychnia acida is an endemic Chilean cactus species whose fruits show several traits that, taken as a whole, are compatible with a seed dispersal syndrome by large herbivore vertebrates. Since only a few large native mammals exist in Chile at present, cactus fruit consumption and seed dispersal may be coopted by introduced mammals as predicted by Janzen and Martin's (1982) hypothesis for tropical ecosystems. Findings: We describe the current frugivore species of E. acida in a protected semiarid-Mediterranean ecosystem using field measurements and feeding experiments. In addition, to examine a potential role as seed dispersers of the cactus species, we offered fruits and performed germination tests on seeds defecated by Lama guanicoe and the introduced goat Capra a. hircus under captivity conditions. Our data indicate that while fruits of E. acida are pecked by the Chilean tinamou, Nothoprocta perdicaria, and the Chilean mockingbird, Mimus thenca, and eaten by the brush-tailed rodent, Octodon degus, none of these species could be considered a legitimate seed disperser. Unlike L. guanicoe, the goat C. a. hircus did not reduce seed germination, having a neutral effect. Conclusions: Results from this study indicate that introduced C. a. hircus was the only species showing a potential role in the seed dispersal process of E. acida. In the absence of native frugivore species, goats might play an important role in population recruitment of the endemic cactus. These results extend Janzen and Martin's (1982) anachronism hypothesis to the Chilean Mediterranean ecosystem.