Plant ecology meets animal cognition: impacts of animal memory on seed dispersal

Elizabeth A. John* (Corresponding Author), Francesca Soldati, Oliver H.P. Burman, Anna Wilkinson, Thomas W. Pike

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)
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    We propose that an understanding of animal learning and memory is critical to predicting the impacts of animals on plant populations through processes such as seed dispersal, pollination and herbivory. Focussing on endozoochory, we review the evidence that animal memory plays a role in seed dispersal, and present a model which allows us to explore the fundamental consequences of memory for this process. We demonstrate that decision-making by animals based on their previous experiences has the potential to determine which plants are visited, which fruits are selected to be eaten from the plant and where seeds are subsequently deposited, as well as being an important determinant of animal survival. Collectively, these results suggest that the impact of animal learning and memory on seed dispersal is likely to be extremely important, although to date our understanding of these processes suffers from a conspicuous lack of empirical support. This is partly because of the difficulty of conducting appropriate experiments but is also the result of limited interaction between plant ecologists and those who work on animal cognition. We believe that an improved understanding of the effects of animal memory in endozoochorous interactions will allow better prediction of the impacts of ecosystem changes such as habitat fragmentation, introductions of novel species of plants and animals and reintroductions of animal populations to areas from which they have been extirpated, and hope that the ideas we put forward here provide an impetus for further work in this area.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to) 1441–1456
    Number of pages16
    JournalPlant Ecology
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2016

    Bibliographical note

    Acknowledgments We acknowledge the support of a studentship awarded to Francesca Soldati by the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, and we thank Ana Mariscal for sharing her forest gap data.


    • Animal behaviour
    • Frugivory
    • Animal learning
    • Animal memory seed dispersal
    • Endozoochory
    • Plant–animal interactions


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