Three-way interactions between Acacia, large mammalian herbivores and bruchid beetles - A review
Large mammalian herbivores are both predators and dispersers of Acacia seeds. While some of the seeds are destroyed during passage through the herbivore's digestive tract, others are defecated unharmed. Ingestion by large herbivores facilitates germination by scarification of the seed coat. The extent of the influence of herbivores on seed dispersal and germination depends on seed retention time and tooth size, which are both positively correlated with body size. Infestation by bruchid beetles (Bruchidae) reduces Acacia germination. Herbivores may reduce bruchid infestation in several ways. Larvae in recently infested seeds are killed by stomach acids penetrating the seed through the larval entry hole. Seeds that are partly excavated by burrowing larvae in more advanced stages may be crushed by the herbivore's teeth. Lastly, but probably most crucially, herbivores simply remove seeds from the natal tree prior to infestation or at least prior to reinfestation. The timing and magnitude of herbivory is crucial for both the reduction of bruchid infestation and Acacia seedling establishment. Although it is widely agreed that a three-way interaction exists between bruchid beetles, Acacia trees and large mammalian herbivores, it is also apparent that the relationship is highly complex and is not yet completely understood.