Who's stealing our Persoonia?

Staff at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan have recently discovered a Bowerbird that has been sneaking into the nursery and eating the fruit from plants of the critically endangered Persoonia pauciflora (North Rothbury Persoonia) plants. 

Having been unable to find the culprit for the last year, staff finally got lucky and caught the bird on a wildlife camera with a fruit in its beak.

Persoonia – the Geebungs - is a genus of Australian plants that are notorious because their seed is difficult to collect and germinate.

The percentage of fruit that successfully mature and produce a viable seed often ranges from 0% to 50% in different species.

 

Staff at the Australian Botanic Garden are currently investigating factors, including climate and pollination that may influence the production of viable seeds in a number of Persoonia species. From the perspective of the research program, the Bowerbird can be seen as a nuisance because we are using this seed for scientific experiments. Yet it offers a unique insight into the mutual relationship between plant and animal. 

Fruit predation by animals has been documented throughout the plant kingdom. For Persoonia, there remains uncertainty surrounding the amount of fruit from a given species that is consumed by animals over one season. Does the consumption of fruit by birds and other animals lead to viable seeds that are more likely to germinate as they are encased in a nutrient-rich substrate in their scats? Given the North Rothbury Persoonia are currently only found in an area covering a mere 29 hectares, a relationship such as the one caught on camera could help ensure that the species recruits at a level that maintains current population numbers, or perhaps even an expansion of its distribution. Indeed, Bowerbirds are known to co-habit the same area in North Rothbury.

When it comes to understanding a species’ ecological preferences and tolerances, it is easy to forget the important role that interactions between species can play.