Bird Gut Boosts Wild Chili Seed Survival
by Ranjini Raghunath
When a South American bird eats a certain wild chili pepper, its gut changes the seeds in ways that may improve the seeds’ chances of growing into new pepper plants, a new study suggests.
Seeds of the wild chili plant Capsicum chacoense that passed through the gut of the Small-billed Elaenia had fewer pathogens and ant-attracting chemical cues, giving them a 370 percent increase in survival rate, according to Evan Fricke, a graduate student at the University of Washington, in Seattle.
Native to Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay, C. chacoense — the plant in the study — produces spicy, red-colored peppers. The Small-billed Elaenia commonly grazes on the peppers, and after digesting them, disperses the seeds around the environment giving the peppers an opportunity to flourish. But the peppers do face a few challenges to survival. Insects can pass fungal infections to the seeds, and ants can pick up and presumably eat the seeds after they are dispersed…
(read more: Live Science) (photo: Joshua Tewksbury)