THE ROLE OF ELEPHANT (Elephas maxim us) AS A SEED DISPERSAL AGENT
The Sri Lankan elephant can be classified as a generalist herbivore as it feeds on alarge number of plant species. Although, leaves and bark makeup bulk of theplant matter consumed by elephants, fruits are also eaten by elephants whenavailable. Therefore, they may be playa role in seed dispersal of such plantspecies. Aim of this investigation was to ascertain the role of elephants as a seeddispersal agent.
This investigation was conducted from January 1998 to December 1999 in theNorth Western region of Sri Lanka. A total of 500 dung samples were collectedfrom different areas within the region. Dung boli were separated by hand andseeds present were identified by comparing with a reference seed collection. Thenumber of seeds present were also recorded. Part of the seeds were removed fromdung and their germination potential was determined while the remaining seedswere left in the dung. These dung piles were monitored and the number of seedsgerminated were recorded.
Analysis of dung revealed 36 species of wild plants and 17 species of cultivatedplants. Of the Wild plants most commonly found plant species were Mimosapudica, Panicum maximum and Tamarindus indica. Among the cultivatedvarieties, Eleusine coracana, cucurbita maxima, Cucumis melo and Oryza sativawere commonest species observed. The seeds found in the dung boli germinatedwell after removal. However, when left in dung the germination potential wasvery low. This indicates that elephants do not playa key role in seed dispersal ofwild plants.