Relative seed and fruit toxicity of the Australian cycads Macrozamia miquelii and Cycas ophiolitica: further evidence for a megafaunal seed dispersal syndrome in cycads, and its possible antiquity

Hall, J. A. and Walter, G. H. (2014) Relative seed and fruit toxicity of the Australian cycads Macrozamia miquelii and Cycas ophiolitica: further evidence for a megafaunal seed dispersal syndrome in cycads, and its possible antiquity. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 40 8: 860-868. doi:10.1007/s10886-014-0490-5


Author Hall, J. A.
Walter, G. H.
Title Relative seed and fruit toxicity of the Australian cycads Macrozamia miquelii and Cycas ophiolitica: further evidence for a megafaunal seed dispersal syndrome in cycads, and its possible antiquity
Formatted title
Relative seed and fruit toxicity of the Australian cycads Macrozamia miquelii and Cycas ophiolitica: further evidence for a megafaunal seed dispersal syndrome in cycads, and its possible antiquity
Journal name Journal of Chemical Ecology   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0098-0331
1573-1561
Publication date 2014-08-30
Year available 2014
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1007/s10886-014-0490-5
Open Access Status
Volume 40
Issue 8
Start page 860
End page 868
Total pages 9
Place of publication New York, NY United States
Publisher Springer New York
Language eng
Abstract An apparent contradiction in the ecology of cycad plants is that their seeds are known to be highly poisonous, and yet they seem well adapted for seed dispersal by animals, as shown by their visually conspicuous seed cones and large seeds presented within a brightly colored fleshy "fruit" of sarcotesta. We tested if this sarcotesta could function as a reward for cycad seed dispersal fauna, by establishing if the toxic compound cycasin, known from the seeds, is absent from the sarcotesta. The Australian cycads Macrozamia miquelii and Cycas ophiolitica were tested (N = 10 individuals per species) using gas chromatography / mass spectrometry. Cycasin was detected at 0.34 % (fresh weight) in seed endosperm of M. miquelii and 0.28 % (fresh weight) in seed endosperm of C. ophiolitica. Cycasin was absent from the sarcotesta of the same propagules (none detected in the case of M. miquelii, and trace quantities detected in sarcotesta of only four of the ten C. ophiolitica propagules). This laboratory finding was supported by field observations of native animals eating the sarcotesta of these cycads but discarding the toxic seed intact. These results suggest cycads are adapted for dispersal fauna capable of swallowing the large, heavy propagules whole, digesting the non-toxic sarcotesta flesh internally, and then voiding the toxic seed intact. Megafauna species such as extant emus or cassowaries, or extinct Pleistocene megafauna such as Genyornis, are plausible candidates for such dispersal. Cycads are an ancient lineage, and the possible antiquity of their megafaunal seed dispersal adaptations are discussed.
Formatted abstract
An apparent contradiction in the ecology of cycad plants is that their seeds are known to be highly poisonous, and yet they seem well adapted for seed dispersal by animals, as shown by their visually conspicuous seed cones and large seeds presented within a brightly colored fleshy "fruit" of sarcotesta. We tested if this sarcotesta could function as a reward for cycad seed dispersal fauna, by establishing if the toxic compound cycasin, known from the seeds, is absent from the sarcotesta. The Australian cycads Macrozamia miquelii and Cycas ophiolitica were tested (N = 10 individuals per species) using gas chromatography / mass spectrometry. Cycasin was detected at 0.34 % (fresh weight) in seed endosperm of M. miquelii and 0.28 % (fresh weight) in seed endosperm of C. ophiolitica. Cycasin was absent from the sarcotesta of the same propagules (none detected in the case of M. miquelii, and trace quantities detected in sarcotesta of only four of the ten C. ophiolitica propagules). This laboratory finding was supported by field observations of native animals eating the sarcotesta of these cycads but discarding the toxic seed intact. These results suggest cycads are adapted for dispersal fauna capable of swallowing the large, heavy propagules whole, digesting the non-toxic sarcotesta flesh internally, and then voiding the toxic seed intact. Megafauna species such as extant emus or cassowaries, or extinct Pleistocene megafauna such as Genyornis, are plausible candidates for such dispersal. Cycads are an ancient lineage, and the possible antiquity of their megafaunal seed dispersal adaptations are discussed.
Keyword Cycad
Cycasin
Seed toxicity
Macrozamia miquelii
Cycas ophiolitica
Megafauna dispersal syndrome
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2015 Collection
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