Toucans in the tropics disperse nutmegs the furthest in the morning, according to research by ecologist Patrick Jansen.
Wild nutmeg trees in South America depend mainly on toucans for seed dispersal. These birds are crazy about these fruits. Not for the nut itself, but for its outer pulp, called mace. That bright red casing is full of fats and proteins. After peeling away the casing, the bird regurgitates the seed.
A lot has already been known about this way of seed dispersal. However, one thing remains unsuccessful: to determine how far toucans disperse these seeds. Tracking birds in a thick forest is practically impossible. Until now. Jansen (Centre for Ecosystem Studies) and colleagues followed the daily movements of toucans in Panama by hanging on them backpacks with equipment. A GPS device maps the location and an accelerometer indicates clearly when the bird is eating.
Subsequently in Artis, Rotterdam, it was determined how long it takes before a toucan regurgitates a processed seed. When these details are matched, the dispersal chances of seeds can be calculated. It has been estimated that seeds are dispersed an average of 144 metres from the mother tree. One out of five seeds travels 200 metres and some seeds even make it to a kilometre. By the way, toucans fly the furthest in the morning.