Two-phase seed dispersal: linking the effects of frugivorous birds and seed-caching rodents
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- Vander Wall, S.B., Kuhn, K.M. & Gworek, J.R. Oecologia (2005) 145: 281. doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0125-1
Frugivorous birds disperse the seeds of many fruit-bearing plants, but the fate of seeds after defecation or regurgitation is often unknown. Some rodents gather and scatter hoard seeds, and some of these may be overlooked, germinate, and establish plants. We show that these two disparate modes of seed dispersal are linked in some plants. Rodents removed large (>25 mg) seeds from simulated bird feces (pseudofeces) at rates of 8–50%/day and scatter hoarded them in soil. Ants (Formica sibylla) also harvested some seeds and carried them to their nests. Rodents carried seeds 2.5±3.2 m to cache sites (maximum 12 m) and buried seeds at 8±7 mm depth. Enclosure studies suggest that yellow pine chipmunks (Tamias amoenus) and deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) made the caches. In spring, some seeds germinated from rodent caches and established seedlings, but no seedlings established directly from pseudofeces. This form of two-phase seed dispersal is important because each phase offers different benefits to plants. Frugivory by birds permits relatively long-range dispersal and potential colonization of new sites, whereas rodent caching moves seeds from exposed, low-quality sites (bird feces on the ground surface) to a soil environment that may help maintain seed viability and promote successful seedling establishment.