Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Cassowary frugivory, seed defleshing and fruit fly infestation influence the transition from seed to seedling in the rare Australian rainforest tree, Ryparosa sp. nov. 1 (Achariaceae)

Bruce L. Webber and Ian E. Woodrow

Functional Plant Biology 31(5) 505 - 516
Published: 02 June 2004


The rare Australian rainforest tree Ryparosa sp. nov. 1 aff. javanica (sensu Webber & Curtis, BW-017; Achariaceae) has large fleshy fruits that undergo a distinctive colour change during ripening. Fruit seem highly suited to frugivore interactions with large ground-dwelling avian or marsupial frugivores, a role primarily filled by the endangered cassowary. We found that fruits had chemical defence traits that closely paralleled morphological ripening signals. Young fruit seeds had amongst the highest concentrations of plant tissue cyanogens ever recorded (some in excess of 12 mg g–1 dw), yet the flesh of ripe fruits had negligible cyanogen defence. A seed treatment trial found that cassowary gut passage significantly improved germination from 4% to 92%, and we were not able to replicate this result with simulated treatments. While high levels of fruit fly larval infestation accounted for reduced seed viability, this predation was apparently reduced by cassowary gut passage. Post-germination seedling traits such as haustorial cryptocotylar cotyledons and epigeal germination may increase the chance of survival for establishing seedlings. We conclude that the range of traits seen in Ryparosa recruitment is particularly suited to interactions with frugivores and survival in a rainforest ecosystem.

Keywords: Adrama selecta, Casuarius casuarius johnsonii, cryptocotylar, cyanide, cyanogenesis, defence, Flacourtiaceae, frugivore, fruit, germination, haustorial cotyledon, plant– animal interaction, ratite, secondary metabolite, Tephritidae.

© CSIRO 2004

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