New discovery: Endangered Amami rabbit disperses seeds for non-photosynthetic plant

by Kobe University
January 24, 2023

The iconic yet endangered Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi) has been shown to play a key role in seed dispersal for the non-photosynthetic plant Balanophora yuwanensis. This discovery, made by Professor SUETSUGU Kenji and graduate student Mr. HASHIWAKI Hiromu of Kobe University’s Graduate School of Science, sheds light on the previously unknown ecological role of the world’s only dark-furred wild rabbit. Despite being the flagship species of the Ryukyu Archipelago, little is known about the ecology of the Amami rabbit because it is a rare, nocturnal animal that inhabits dense forests on two subtropical islands. These findings were published on January 23, 2023 in the journal ‘Ecology.’

Seed dispersal is an essential process for the evolution and ecology of terrestrial plants, making discoveries of uncommon seed dispersal agents particularly interesting. Researchers had previously been puzzled about how the seeds of the non-photosynthetic, mushroom-like Balanophora plants, which have some of the smallest fruits among angiosperms, were dispersed. Suetsugu & Hashiwaki observed feeding marks on Balanophora yuwanensis plants on Amami-Oshima Island in Japan, which they suspected were made by the Amami rabbit.

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