Similar seed dispersal systems by local frugivorous birds in native and alien plant species in a coastal seawall forest.
Frugivorous birds play an important role in seed dispersal. Alien plant species' seeds are dispersed by local birds in order to establish populations in new habitats. Alien plant species that produce fruits similar to that of native species have the potential to attract local birds, creating new mutualistic systems that are similar to the local ones. In autumn 2018 and 2019, we studied the seed dispersal systems of an alien plant species, Phytolacca americana, and a native species, Cayratia japonica, in a coastal seawall forest. Both plant species' fruit, frugivorous bird foraging behaviors, seed germination rates, and seedling microhabitats were examined to determine whether the alien species had a similar seed dispersal system to that of the native species. Our results showed that P. americana and C. japonica had similar fruit type, color, and ripening period. There was a positive correlation between the percentage rate of fruit ripening and the percentage rate of fruit missing for both plant species, indicating that local frugivorous birds have the potential to sufficiently disperse the alien seeds to enable its spread in the coastal seawall forest (simple linear regression, P. americana: β = 0.863 ± 0.017, R2adj = 0.978, P < 0.01; C. japonica: β = 0.787 ± 0.034, R2adj= 0.898, P < 0.01). Eleven bird species consumed the fruits of the alien species or native species during the study period. Similar results were shown across alien and native species in bird foraging behavior (feeding frequency, feeding duration and first stop distance) indicating that a similar seed dispersal relationship had been established between local frugivorous and both plant species. The alien plant had a higher number of fruits carried by birds, suggesting that P. americana had a slightly higher fruit consumption than that of C. japonica (t-test, P < 0.01). Alien plant seedlings grow more abundant in forest gap microhabitat (t-test, P < 0.01). Our results confirmed that bird digestion promotes seed germination success in both plant species. Our study suggests that in a narrow coastal seawall forest, alien plant species can successfully establish their populations by relying on similar seed dispersal systems as the local species.