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Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is a primary disperser of five large-seeded forest species in south-west Australia.View image slideshow

Project title: Dispersal and persistence of large-seeded forest species under global environmental change.

Dates: 2011 - 2014

Funding: Australian Research Council

Location: South-west Western Australian forests

Research themes

  • plant-animal interactions
  • seed germination
  • population genetics
  • demographic structure

Project description

The overall objectives of the project are to quantify dispersal of five large-seeded forest species (Macrozamia riedlei (Cycadaceae); Podocarpus drouynianus (Podocarpaceae); Persoonia longifolia (Proteaceae); Persoonia elliptica (Proteaceae); Leucopogon verticillatus (Ericacaeae)) by the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), which is a primary disperser of these species in south-west Australia.

Genetic tools were used to assess the frequency and distance of dispersal events at sites with contrasting (high/low) emu abundances as a result of human impacts on habitat. Next-generation sequencing was used to screen and develop microsatellite markers specific for each species. These polymorphic markers were utilised to assign parentage to dispersed seeds located in animal scats (emu and kangaroo) and seedlings that were spatially distant from any adult plants. Our expectation is that long distance dispersal events will be diminished in areas with low emu abundance.

Understanding how seed dispersal dynamics shift with declines in the abundance of animal dispersers will allow predictions to be made on plant species responses to environmental change and what role this will play on the continued persistence of these endemic forest species.

Key staff

Prof Neal Enright, Dr Siegy Krauss, Dr Carole Elliott


Prof Ran Nathan, Prof Byron Lamont


Andrew Nield (PhD; 2014) Seed dispersal and the persistence of large-seeded forest species by the emu under global environmental change. Murdoch University.

Jessica Stingemore (PhD; 2013) Plant density effects on genetic variation and dispersal for two co-occurring Persoonia species. University of Western Australia.

James Tsakalos (Fourth Year Project; 2013) Mating system of Cycads in an urban remnant: Macrozamia reidlei. University of Western Australia.

Mark Gerlach (Hons; 2012) The population structure and dynamics of Macrozamia riedlei within the Perth region. Murdoch University.

Sophie Monaco (Hons; 2012) Seed dispersal, herbivory and recruitment failure of Persoonia elliptica (Proteaceae) in Western Australian Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest. Murdoch University.

Ryan Tangney (Hons; 2012) Seed dispersal by Emus: Their effect on genetic diversity and structure of Leucopogon nutans. University of Western Australia.

Chris Poulton (Hons; 2011). Spatial population genetics of Leucopogon nutans E.Pritz (Ericaceae): Microsatellite marker development and population analysis. Murdoch University.


Nield, A., Monaco, S., Birnbaum, C., Enright, N., 2015a. Regeneration failure threatens persistence of Persoonia elliptica (Proteaceae) in Western Australian jarrah forests. Plant Ecology 216, 189-198.

Nield, A.P., Enright, N.J., Ladd, P.G., 2015b. Study of seed dispersal by Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) in the Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forests of south-western Australia through satellite telemetry. Emu 115, 29-34

Elliott CP, Enright NJ, Allcock RJN, Gardner MG, Meglécz E, Anthony J and Krauss SL (2014) Microsatellite markers from the Ion Torrent: a multi-species contrast to 454 shotgun sequencing. Molecular Ecology Resources 14, 554-568.

Stingemore JA and Krauss SL (2013) Genetic delineation of local provenance in Persoonia longifolia: Implications for seed sourcing for ecological restoration. Restoration Ecology 21, 49-57.

Stingemore JA, Nevill PG, Gardner MG and Krauss SL (2013) Development of microsatellite markers for two Australian Persoonia (Proteaceae) species using two different techniques. Applications in Plant Sciences 1(10): doi 1300023.

Elliott C (2014) Who eats Macrozamia seeds? For People and Plants, Friends of Kings Park Magazine Issue 88: 22-25.

Emus play an important role in the long distance dispersal of seed - here demonstrated by mutliple Leucopogon seed in scat from Avon Valley NP. Photo: S. Krauss.

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