African savanna elephants are the largest terrestrial animal, that are helping to maintain genetic diversity of trees in the savanna. These elephants can transport seeds up to 65km, which is greater than birds can. These animals are eating the fruit from plants and are spreading the seeds as a result. You might be wondering just how these elephants are spreading seeds. One word, dung. Yes, scientists had the very exciting task of collecting and examining elephant poop.
Upon examining elephant dung, it appears that passing through these elephants’ digestive tracts has protected seeds from predation by beetles. The effectiveness of dung was studied on three tree species (Acacia tortilis Hayne, Tamarindus indica L., Ximenia aegyptiaca L). Scientists discovered that there were fewer holes in the seeds if they passed through the elephants’ digestive tract and that the dung protected the seeds from infestation by insects. This protection increases the probability of the seeds surviving to the next stage in their life cycle. Therefore, elephants consuming and passing seeds via their dung is not only dispersing numerous species around the savanna, but is also protecting the seeds from destruction by outside forces; thus, these species would be prevented from continuing on in their life cycles and could potentially be at risk for extinction.
Another positive result of elephants dispersing seeds is that there is genetic diversity of species and inbreeding is prevented. However, there have been illegal killings (poaching for ivory) of these elephants that could not only cause them to become extinct, but tree species as well.