American ginseng berries are bright red beacons against forest foliage in the fall, and the berries may look appetizing to a variety of forest animals. While some animal-berry interactions are beneficial to ginseng populations by resulting in the dispersal of ginseng seeds, some interactions result in the predation of ginseng seeds. Seed predation occurs when animals kill the embryo of a ginseng seeds either during the mastication or digestion of ginseng berries.
White-tailed deer ingest ginseng fruits and seeds frequently, but these seed do not pass through the gut intact; therefore deer are predators rather than dispersers of ginseng seeds.1 Additionally, small mammals, primarily chipmunks and mice, have been shown to predate the seeds by removing the pulp of the fruit and seed coat and ingesting solely the seed embryo.2 Seed predation has many negative implications for plant populations.Most notably it limits the number of seeds added to the seed bank and ultimately the recruitment of new individuals to populations. Decreasing the number of possible new recruits to a population can decrease population growth and in small populations extreme predation by deer or small mammals may prevent the recovery of a population after an extreme disturbance or an unsustainable harvest.
1Furedi and McGraw 2004
2Hruska and McGraw, in prep