Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Institute in Panama have started using GPS transmitters stored in a backpack to track tropical toucans. Scientists are hoping to find out just how well these toucans distribute nutmeg seeds – as it turns out, tropical toucans can’t get enough nutmeg! In addition to discovering where nutmeg seeds are deposited, scientists can also determine just how far a toucan will go to find a tasty nutmeg tree.
Nutmeg trees (in addition to millions of other plants) cannot survive unless seeds are thoroughly distributed. Prior to the invention of GPS technology, ecologists used estimates combined with rough maps to determine seeding areas. Now, scientists can sit back and let GPS trackers do all the work.
Toucans swallow nutmeg seeds whole, ingest the rough outer part of the seed, and then spit the rock-like inner seed back into the air. Scientists were able to determine that captive toucans take approximately twenty-five minutes to swallow and regurgitate one-hundred nutmeg seeds.
In addition to learning how quickly toucans can spit out nutmeg seeds, scientists have also learned that seed dispersal is much more effective during morning and afternoon hours. Seemingly, toucans are too tired during the evening hours to properly disperse nutmeg seeds. As Mother Nature would have it, the fruit on a nutmeg tree ripens during the early morning hours – just in time for a tropical toucan’s breakfast.
Researchers are continuing to study the way that toucans spread nutmeg seeds. In addition to learning more about toucans and nutmeg seeds, scientists are also hoping to use GPS technology to track other animals that work to help plants of all kinds reproduce.
Article Written by Chris Hummel