Native and exotic seed dispersal by the stone marten (Martes foina): implications for the regeneration of a relict climactic forest in central Portugal.
The stone marten (Martes foina) is a carnivorous mammal that often consumes fleshy fruits, thus potentially promoting seed dispersion. The present study was developed in Bussaco National Forest, central Portugal, and aimed to assess the potential role of the stone marten in dispersing native and exotic plants in different forest landscape types. Seeds from stone marten scats and fleshy fruits were collected monthly and were thereafter identified and sowed in a nursery, following a randomized experimental setup. Plant emergence was monitored fortnightly. Generalized linear models were used to test for differences in time and success of emergence between seeds from scats and fruits of 3 native species (Rubus ulmifolius, Arbutus unedo and Celtis australis) and 1 exotic plant species with invasive behavior (Prunus laurocerasus). Fruit consumption by the stone martens significantly increased and accelerated the germination of the native R. ulmifolius but had no effect on the other 2 native species or on the invasive species. This suggested that stone martens contribute to gene flow and forest regeneration by dispersing native plant seeds. However, although the germination was not enhanced in the invasive species, the preference of stone martens for these fruits may potentially contribute to the proliferation of P. laurocerasus. Our study represents a contribution to better understanding the fauna and flora interactions, enabling for a more conscious and effective decision-making in forest management.