In the dry southern Morocco, domesticated goats climb to the risky tippy tops of native argan trees to find fresh pasture. they spend the autumn season, as much as three-quarters of the year, ‘treetop grazing.’
Local herders every once in a while trim the thorny trees for easier climbing and even teach goat kids to climb 30 feet into the branches.
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Spanish ecologists have observed an unusual way in which the three and the goats benefit from their relationship.
Argan trees may be familiar with popular beauty products that feature argan oil, made from the tree’s nuts.
The Argan’s nuts are surrounding by a soft fruit that looks a bit like a giant green olive. For goats, the fruits are tasty, but not the seeds.
The goats are spitting the trees’ large seeds after re-chew their food and fermenting it for a while in a specialized stomach. Like cows, sheep, and deer, goats.
While regurgitating over their cud, they spit out the argan nuts, delivering clean seeds to new ground, wherever the goats have moved. The distance they walk away from the tree gives the seeds a better chance of survival to grow.
This seed dispersal effect is a variation of a process ecologists calls endozoochory, in which seeds pass all the way through the animal’s digestive system and out the other end.
Previous reports of dispersing Argan seeds by this more conventional mechanism were mistaken because goats do not usually poop large seeds.
The seeds are too big to be excreted, so they throw them out Instead. Scientists found in the paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
The ecologists have witnessed sheep and deer spitting seeds while chewing their cud, and suspect this spitting may be common – and perhaps an essential route to seed spread for some plant species.