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The five most common methods of seed dispersal in the plant kingdom are:

  • wind (anemochory): tumbleweeds, dandelions, maples
  • animals:(epizoochory) externally - burs / (endozoochory) internally - fruits
  • water (hydrochory): aquatic-water lily/terrestrial-mangrove trees
  • gravity (barochory): apples, coconuts
  • ballistic (ballochory): impatiens, geraniums

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seed_dispersal

As far as which one of these five is the most common, this site says that animal dispersal is more common than wind but nothing in relation to the other methods listed above. Each method likely is most common in it's most well suited niche, but which one is the most common (in the widest range of species) overall?

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    $\begingroup$ Clarification: When you say most common, do you mean: 1. Common to the widest range of species or 2. Common to the greatest number of individual plants? Say hypothetically you could have a billion different species with only ten individual plants each present, or you could have ten different species each with a billion individual plants. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyMammoth Nov 22 '17 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ Widest range of species. Good catch. $\endgroup$ – wanderweeer Nov 22 '17 at 1:04
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This paper from Herrera (1989) investigates the role of endozoochory in Angiosperm diversification, and it has a table that can help answering your question, since it deals with all seed plant families:

enter image description here

As you can see, among Gymnosperms there is no question: endozoochory is the most common mechanism of dispersal.

Unfortunately, things are a bit more complicated among Angiosperms. Exclusive endozoochory is not the most common mechanism (27.1% versus 72.9%). However, if we take into account that the plants that perform endozoochory are actually the sum of the first and second ("mixed") columns, the total is 50.9, which is more than 50%. Of course, there is a mathematical possibility that another method, together with the "mixed" column, also surpass 50%.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the authors are calculating the frequencies of endozoochory only. If one adds epizoochory to that number (zoochory = epizoochory + endozoochory), the frequency of zoochory is even higher.


Source: Herrera, C. (1989). Seed Dispersal by Animals: A Role in Angiosperm Diversification?. The American Naturalist, 133(3), pp.309-322.

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  • $\begingroup$ As per the question though, I'd have to ask: in these families, how many genera and species do they have? As the question is looking for the most common technique between species, not families $\endgroup$ – GrumpyMammoth Nov 22 '17 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ I was foreseeing this question. It's very ease to determine how many species those families contain (295000 for the 277 Angiosperm families and 1000 for the 14 Gimnosperm families). However, the authors don't define to what families those percentages are related. Also, I doubt OP will find a nice and finished statistic for species: the best they can find is a description for each family, and then computing the number of species from there.... that is, a lot of work. $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 22 '17 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ Well, frankly, that is frustrating on the part of the authors! Any ideas on where to look for a more definitive answer? This really isn't my area of biology, but dang it, now I'm curious, and I want to find out! $\endgroup$ – GrumpyMammoth Nov 22 '17 at 14:01

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