Vagrant birds as a dispersal vector in transoceanic range expansion of vascular plants

Jesse M. Kalwij, Diego Medan, Jürgen Kellermann, Michelle Greve, Steven L. Chown

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Birds are thought to be important vectors underlying the disjunct distribution patterns of some terrestrial biota. Here, we investigate the role of birds in the colonisation by Ochetophila trinervis (Rhamnaceae), a vascular plant from the southern Andes, of sub-Antarctic Marion Island. The location of O. trinervis on the island far from human activities, in combination with a reconstruction of island visitors' travel history, precludes an anthropogenic introduction. Notably, three bird species occurring in the southern Andes inland have been observed as vagrants on Marion Island, with the barn swallow Hirundo rustica as the most common one. This vagrant displays long-distance migratory behaviour, eats seeds when insects are in short supply, and has started breeding in South America since the 1980s. Since naturalised O. trinervis has never been found outside the southern Andes and its diaspores are incapable of surviving in seawater or dispersing by wind, a natural avian dispersal event from the Andes to Marion Island, a distance of >7500 km, remains the only probable explanation. Although one self-incompatible shrub seems doomed to remain solitary, its mere establishment on a Southern Ocean island demonstrates the potential of vagrancy as a driver of extreme long-distance dispersal of terrestrial biota.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4655
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2019

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