Joshua Tewksbury/University of Washington and the Luc Hoffmann Institute/WWF International

ScienceShot: For Best Results, Mix With Bird Poop

Being digested isn't always a bad thing. Seeds of Capsicum chacoense, a wild chili pepper native to South America, are almost four times as likely to germinate after passing through the intestines of Elaenia parvirostris, a common flycatcher, according to a new study. Ecologists have long assumed that birds help plants mostly by separating seeds from their parents, to reduce the chance that seedlings will succumb to diseases that adult plants harbor, or face competition. But in this case, distance from parents had no effect on the chili's success. Instead, the researchers found that gut passage removed a common pathogenic fungus and scrubbed the seeds of an odor that attracts seed-eating ants. This is the first time anyone has shown that being digested actually helps protect seeds from predation and infection, the team reports this month in Ecology Letters. Think about that next time a bird decorates your windshield.

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Posted in Environment