Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In 1973, it was thought that this species was dying out. There were only 13 specimens left, and all of them were about 300 years old. Stanley Temple put forward the theory that the dodo, which became extinct in 1681, ate the seeds of the tree, and only by passing through the digestive tract of the dodo did the seeds become active and start to grow. After a while, it was discovered the same effect could be accomplished by getting turkeys to eat the seeds. Turkeys showed no interest in whole tambalacoque fruit, but were willing to swallow the seeds, which sprouted after passing through turkey gizzards. New seedlings have germinated, and the species appears to have been saved, though the seedlings have not yet produced seeds of their own. The dodo tree is valued on Mauritius for its timber; the foresters now abrade the seeds by hand in order to get them to sprout, rather than feeding them to turkeys.
However, this theory that the tree required the dodo has been contested; others have suggested the decline of the tree was exaggerated, or that other extinct animals may also have been distributing the seeds, such as tortoises, fruit bats or native parrots. Strahm and Cheke, two experts in Mascarene ecology, claim that while a rare tree, it has germinated since the demise of the dodo and numbers in the hundreds, not 13. The decline of the tree is possibly because of introduced pigs and monkeys and competition with introduced plants. Catling (2001) in a summary cites Owadally and Temple (1979), and Witmer (1991).
- Temple, S.A., 1977. Plant-animal mutualism: coevolution with Dodo leads to near extinction of plant. Science 187: 885-886
- Carla Helfferich, 1990. The Turkey and the Tambalacoque Tree
- Paul M. Catling, 2001. Extinction and the importance of history and dependence in conservation. Biodiversity 2(3) pdf
- Owadally, A. W. and Temple, S. A., 1979. The dodo and the tambalacoque tree. Science 1363-1364
- Witmer, M. C. and Cheke, A. S., 1991. The dodo and the tambalacoque tree: an obligate mutualism reconsidered. Oikos 61: 133-137
- David Quammen, 1996. The Song of the Dodo.
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