Expert Gardeners? Cougars Accidentally Plant Around 94,000 Plants A Year

December 23, 2016

Did you know that cougars are great gardeners?

You won't see them carefully pruning bonsai trees with their claws or paging through a Burpee seed catalog, but scientists say that one of these bigs cats can plant around 94,000 seeds in a year. They do this by doing what cats seem to do best: eating and pooping.

cougar plants
Photo: Shutterstock

Ecologists have been saying since the 1960s that apex predators—the carnivores at the top of their local food chain—keep the world green by killing and eating plant-eaters and keeping them in check, allowing plants to flourish.

Biologist José Hernán Sarasola and his research team spent months collecting and picking through cougar scats in Argentina's Parque Luro Natural Reserve, where the cats' diet is mainly made up of eared doves. In just 123 scats, they found nearly 32,000 seeds from different plants that the doves feed on, the bulk of which came from three grasses. When they planted some of these seeds, they sprouted just fine, and passage through the cougars' guts doesn't seem to hurt them.

Given the density of cougars in the reserve, the researchers estimate that the cats could spread about 5,000 seeds from just those three common plants per square kilometer every year.

That’s a lot of seeding, and the researchers say it shows that big cats and other predators are doing an important and overlooked job. By spreading that many seeds around, cougars help plants colonize new and unoccupied areas, and keep genes flowing back and forth between populations.

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