Israel's wild boars are perhaps Israeli farmers greatest enemies, ransacking fields in search of food. But despite the damage they cause, they play an important ecological role in spreading wild flower seeds, according to a new study carried out at the Ramat Hanadiv park near Zichron Yaakov.
The survey, by Guy Dovrat of the University of Haifa's biology and environment department, appeared in the most recent issue of the Hebrew-language journal Ecology and Environment. Wild boars were chosen for the study because they are among the last big mammals surviving in large numbers in Israel. They consume large quantities of herbaceous foods.
The boars disperse wild flowers seeds that cling to their fur and in their excretions.
The Ramat Hanadiv study, in which Prof. Avi Perevolotsky of the Volcani Institute and Prof. Gidi Ne'eman of the University of Haifa-Oranim also took part, included continuous monitoring at Ramat Hanadiv of the content of the dung excreted by a herd of wild boars. Wild flower seeds found in the dung were then germinated to track which flowers developed from them.
In another study done in the area, wild boars in Ramat Hanadiv were trapped and tranquilized. Dovrat then used this opportunity to comb the boars and collect seeds from their fur. According to him, "everything was done with veterinary supervision and in coordination with a ranger from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The boars were returned to the wild."
These seeds were also germinated in a nursery.
The result of the survey found that the boars carried in their digestive tracts or on their fur seeds from over 30 species, some from trees whose fruits the boars eat, and some from annual plants, some of which are also dispersed by the wind. Most of the species dispersed through the digestive tract were non-local varieties that were imported to Israel and spread to open spaces. The species found on their fur were local.
The survey concluded that the wild boars play an important role in spreading wildflower seeds to greater distances. However, this dispersal also poses an ecological risk, because the boars may also help disperse invasive plants that overpower local species.
According to the researchers, the boars can serve as a bridge between isolated areas of wildflowers and help solidify new growth habitats. Therefore it is important to protect them in the areas that serve as ecological corridors between nature reserves.