Sprouting as a gardening strategy to obtain superior supplementary food: Evidence from a seed-caching marine worm

Zhenchang Zhu, Jim Van Belzen, Tao Hong, Tadao Kunihiro, Tom Ysebaert, Peter M.J. Herman, Tjeerd J. Bouma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Only a handful of non-human animals are known to grow their own food by cultivating high-yield fungal or algal crops as staple food. Here we report an alternative strategy utilized by an omnivorous marine worm, Hediste diversicolor, to supplement its diet: gardening by sprouting seeds. In addition to having many other known feeding modes, we showed using video recordings and manipulative mesocosm experiments that this species can also behave like gardeners by deliberately burying cordgrass seeds in their burrows, which has been previously shown to reduce the loss of seeds to water. These seeds, however, are protected by the seed husk, and we used feeding experiments to show that they were not edible for H. diversicolor until they had sprouted or the seed husk had been artificially removed. Additionally, sprouts were shown to be highly nutritious, permitting higher growth rates in H. diversicolor than the low-quality basal food, detritus. We propose both a proximate cause (seed husk as a physical barrier) and ultimate cause (nutritional demand) for this peculiar feeding behavior. Our findings suggest that sprouting may be a common strategy used by seed-collecting animals to exploit nutrients from well-protected seeds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3278-3284
Number of pages7
JournalEcology
Volume97
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Keywords

  • Cordgrass
  • Gardening
  • Ragworm
  • Seed
  • Seed-caching
  • Spartina
  • Sprout
  • Sprouting

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