Carnivore consumption of fruit is a principle means by which many fleshy-fruited plant species achieve long-distance seed dispersal. We examined carnivore dispersal of hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) seeds, specifically assessing the survival, desiccation sensitivity, and germination of seeds found in bear scats. Studies were conducted both in the laboratory and in 2 burn areas in Los Padres National Forest, California. Bear scats containing P. ilicifolia seeds were collected in burned and unburned chaparral. We counted seeds in each scat and noted whether endocarps had tooth punctures or rattled audibly when shaken. For comparative germination trials, we also collected fruits and seeds directly from mature shrubs. In the laboratory, following a cold-moist stratification period, seeds were assessed for germinability. In the field, we compared desiccation rates and germinability of seeds from bear scats and freshly collected seeds. We compared rates of moisture loss and germination for seeds subjected to several different conditions, including 25 °C (room temperature), 30 °C and 65 °C (in the lab), and placement on exposed soil in a burn area (in the field), where midday temperatures were approximately 45 °C but likely much higher by late afternoon.
Prunus ilicifolia seeds collected from bear scats were largely undamaged; the vast majority of these seeds germinated. In some cases, germination rate was higher for seeds from scats than for seeds from intact fruits. Several results indicate that desiccation is an important cause of reduced germinability. First, seeds that rattled audibly germinated poorly; and the louder the rattle, the lower the germination percentage. Second, seeds (both fresh and those from bear scats) placed in the field under protective screens had greatly reduced levels of germination (an 84% decline) after only 7 days. Third, seeds dried in the lab, even at relatively moderate temperatures, showed a decline in germination with seed moisture loss. The addition of high temperatures accelerated this decline in germination. We discuss the relevance of heat and desiccation sensitivity of seeds dispersed by bears to successful seed germination in burned and late-seral mesic and xeric chaparral.