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I gather that some would or could in theory still be successful, but don't most depend on takers to flourish?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Rory Alsop May 12 '18 at 23:49
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No

Not all seeds need to be ingested in order to be spread from one place to the other, in fact some won't grow at all if eaten, some need the fruit to help them germinate and sprout after they hit the ground. Nuts simply will not grow at all if you crack them open.

Most plants rely on the wind to disperse their pollen and seed.

Dandelions are a prime example of a plant with wind carried seeds, their seeds can travel for hundreds of kilometres on parachutes before settling down and germinating in the ground, plenty of other weeds and plants go to seed the same way.

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Cotton bearing trees produce their cotton so the wind can carry their seeds, like the Cottonwood and many species of Poplar tree.

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One of the fun ones is helicopter seeds. Maples, elders and ash trees are among the species that disperse their seeds this way. The seeds will literally helicopter down, and fly great distances on the wind if it's strong enough. Even as an adult it's still fun to pick these seeds up of the ground and drop them just to watch them fly.

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Some trees don't even need to go to seed in order to spread and multiply. Poplars are notorious for sending out suckers underground. Their roots systems spread out from the tree near to the surface and sprout suckers that will pop up out of the ground an grow into another tree. Other bushes and plants do this as well, like raspberry plants.

Not even all fruit is intended to be eaten, The fruit of the chestnut tree is sour, and covered in sharp spines that hurt. We used to spin them around and throw them at each other as kids imaging we were medieval warriors wielding maces. The spikes can get rather long and sharp, I've seen them stick to kids that have been hit by them, and after plucking them off they develop a golfball-sized welt covered in lots of tiny puncture marks.

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Worst case scenario for plants that spread their seeds via burrs or by being ingested a pooped out elsewhere if animals were to suddenly cease to exist is that they wouldn't be able to disperse their seeds as far. They'd simply drop their seeds beside them, but they would continue to exist.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, Shem, for your wonderful answer. That puts into perspective fruits and seeds, which I appreciate! :) I had thought of fruits and nuts as being quite dependent on being eaten or carried away, but as you point out, not all are so dependent. Interesting! $\endgroup$ – Private Name May 12 '18 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ I up voted your answer, but since I don't have 15 points yet, I'm not "allowed" to say thank you in such a way. Sorry man $\endgroup$ – Private Name May 12 '18 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ As kids in Hawaii, we had 'burning beans' of this tropic legume tree with beans the size of a quarter that we rubbed on the concrete to get hot and touch another poor kid! No 1st degree burns at all... $\endgroup$ – stormy May 13 '18 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ Even edible fruit trees may survive, just look at the osage orange, the only animal that could eat its fruit is long extinct, so not only the fruit that rot away fast enough spread. $\endgroup$ – John May 13 '18 at 23:23
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A really good book on how trees work is this one:

Trees: Their Natural History 2nd Edition by Peter A. Thomas

I think pollination would be a bigger issue. There are trees that depend on very specific animals for pollination. Some would probably vanish after existing plants died.

And, yes, there are trees that depend on animals for seed distribution. But, they would probably get by. They would spread a lot slower. But, they also wouldn't have animals around to eat their fruit/seeds/nuts. For example, squirrels and jays cache nuts from various locations and they don't retrieve them all later.

There are also trees totally dependent upon specific animals: There is a South American plant/tree dependent upon the agouti to open the shells of their nuts and bury some. Nothing else can do it. I am not sure if the shells would deteriorate fast enough for the insides to have a chance to grow.

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I think this question is wonderful. This is the kind of thinking everyone should find themselves doing everyday. And, my answer would be, yes, plants would adapt to other ways to disperse seed. It would take a long time but you bet, if that method of dispersal stopped plants would evolve to use only wind or water to disperse seed. The dandelion's method would become the norm. Maple seeds, the little helicopters would become even more impressive.

The problem with your scenario are insects; bacteria, nematodes, fungi and macro soil organisms the millipedes, earthworms...without these decomposers it would inhibit decomposition and thus no food for all the other soil organisms, some plants are totally reliant upon. Plants would change, evolve into a more survivable organism.

Plants already communicate via chemistry to protect their own species. When the antelope and other herd beasts in Africa got overpopulated and started to put major stress on the shrub trees, the shrub trees got together and became poisonous and killed entire herds of animals.

I am wondering when plants will turn on us! Grins...

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