Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fall 2010 Spring 2011

1. What affect does being eaten have on mayapple seeds? To figure this out, I fed a captive deer 10 mayapples, or conservatively about 150 seeds. (I would have liked to feed her more but it is extremely hard to find ripe mayapple fruit that has not been eaten.) I had to clean her enclosure of all poo first - I used a shovel. Then I fed her the fruit and came back for the next four days and collected all she released. I'm grateful for latex gloves. After straining it all, I came up with two seeds. One of those seeds germinated. The other didn't, but not because it was damaged, it just didn't feel like the time was right to germinate. The seeds have a finicky dormancy mechanism that I'm beginning to unravel - I didn't treat the seeds right the first time.
I don't like their taste. Deer and raccoons do. These are pretty ripe.
They are about the size of a chicken egg.

It's in the bag.
One of the deer processed seeds.
I also fed captive raccoons about a dozen fruits. A very generous wildlife rehabilitator fed some of her animals and collected their releases for me.  I have now done this twice and both times - after sieving the stuff, I got a 30% viable return. One seed germinated the first run, the second run is in the works. I am more aware now of what the seeds need to break dormancy - so we will begin to see within a few weeks on germination rates.

The conclusion is: Deer can disperse mayapple, but they kill the seeds more often that not.  Raccoons are most definitely dispersers of mayapple. The other conclusion: Deer poo doesn't smell much. Raccoon poo smells like .... well, awful. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Spring and Summer 2010 Summary

1. Get to know the mayapple. Find out when it flowers, when the fruit gets eaten, when the fruit ripens etc. I found that it flowers in April and is pollinated by bees (and maybe another insect?). A large portion of the fruit is eaten before it is ripe. Deer appear to be the culprit (Jen's photos and my observations).
When it does ripen, it is eaten by raccoons, oppossums and turtles - deer and other animals (bear if there) may also  eat the ripe fruit. The fruit ripens in late July and early August.

2. Find locations of possible mayapple seed deposition. During the time when the ripe fruit was being eaten, I spent my time in the forest looking for dung. I found dozens of deer and raccoon (and maybe a few opossum) poo piles. The goal is to characterize where the animals may place mayapple seeds and compare those locations to optimal locations for mayapple.  I have collected data such as slope, aspect, soil pH, soil organic matter etc - eighteen descriptive features of each poo site.

I didn't find any seeds in the poo I found, but I have to assume the animals would not change their defecation habits because they ate a mayapple.  The chances of finding seeds in the poo is remote due to the relative scarcity of mayapple fruit.

I limited my search to forests. I searched on ridges, on slopes and in bottoms in a systematic way.

I think deer don't like to poo in brushy areas (I looked more carefully in these areas because any poo there would be harder to find). They seem to prefer flat open areas but also go on a slope if on a trail. Where you find one pellet group (or plop) you usually find many. They are creatures of habit. One hillside had about 40 poo places of various ages strung out - all within 50 meters of each other.

Raccoon, as it is known, prefer the base of trees, on logs and often go in the same spot more than once - or more than one use the same spot. They do also go out in the open.
Warning: Raccoon poo can contain parasitic worm eggs that if ingested can cause serious illness.

What's so special about that!?
When I get home from work, my two-year old daughter asks me what I did during the day. When I started this portion of the project, I would tell her I went into the woods to look for deer and raccoon poo. She was a bit puzzled by this. For awhile after, whenever I went someplace she would ask me if I was going to look for deer and raccoon poo.  One day on a walk near the edge of a forest she said she wanted to to look for deer and raccoon poo in the forest too. We found some. She was pretty interested in it - if only to wonder what it was about it that made me want to look for it.