American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is an uncommon perennial understory herb found in eastern deciduous forest. The species is harvested for the international medicinal plant trade. While previous research has inferred that seed dispersal is limited, the production of bright red, fleshy berries suggests long-distance dispersal may be facilitated by songbirds. The objective of this study was to determine how songbirds interacted with ginseng and whether they dispersed or predated ginseng seeds. We used infrared, motion-activated cameras to observe animal—ginseng interactions in the field. To determine the disperser potential of songbirds observed visiting ginseng in the field, we conducted a captive feeding study at the Tennessee Aquarium. Thrushes removed berries from ginseng infructescences more frequently, compared to other potential dispersers, and regurgitated viable seeds 5–37 minutes after ingestion in feeding trials. By dispersing ginseng seeds, thrushes provide a mechanism for ginseng to improve its probability of persistence in the face of 3 primary threats to populations: deer browse, harvest, and climate change.
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