Secondary seed dispersal of Erodiophyllum elderi, a patchily distributed short-lived perennial in the arid lands of Australia

Louise Emmerson, José M. Facelli, Peter Chesson, Hugh Possingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


We investigated secondary dispersal of propagules of Erodiophyllum elderi (Asteraceae), a short-lived perennial plant growing in small patches in the arid lands of southern Australia. In spite of its importance for population dynamics, secondary dispersal is a little understood process. We monitored the dispersal of 2280 large woody capitula (seed heads) released in six E. elderi patches for 9 months. Colour-coded seed heads were located at night using UV light and their distance and direction from the release point were measured. Over the 9-month period, more seed heads moved, and those that did, moved further in areas with high herbivore activity. Overall dispersal distance across the ground was limited to less than 30 m. Dispersal patterns were related to the topographical slope at the release site: seed heads moved further, and more dispersed on steeper slopes unless the steep slopes had sandy soil in which case seed heads were buried, caught or there was reduced sheet water flow limiting their dispersal potential. After several months, seed head dispersal virtually ceased as seed heads became stuck in the debris and soil after heavy rains or further dispersal became unlikely when seed heads reached locally low-lying areas. Secondary dispersal patterns suggest two distinctly different influences associated with the presence of herbivores: the direct movement of seed heads by trampling from sheep (an introduced herbivore) and the indirect effect of a reduced standing biomass from grazing. Reduced vegetation cover allows seed head redistribution via sheet water flow during large rainfall events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)906-918
Number of pages13
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Above-ground seed bank
  • Erodiophyllum elderi
  • Patchy distribution
  • Secondary dispersal
  • Xeric vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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