Article

Plant Ecology

, Volume 214, Issue 4, pp 531-543

First online:

Rodent-favored cache sites do not favor seedling establishment of shade-intolerant wild apricot (Prunus armeniaca Linn.) in northern China

  • Hongmao ZhangAffiliated withAnimal Behaviour Research Group, College of Life Sciences, Central China Normal UniversityState Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents in Agriculture, Institute of Zoology, The Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • , Yang LuoAffiliated withAnimal Behaviour Research Group, College of Life Sciences, Central China Normal University
  • , Michael A. SteeleAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Wilkes University
  • , Zheng YangAffiliated withAnimal Behaviour Research Group, College of Life Sciences, Central China Normal University
  • , Yu WangAffiliated withState Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents in Agriculture, Institute of Zoology, The Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • , Zhibin ZhangAffiliated withState Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents in Agriculture, Institute of Zoology, The Chinese Academy of Sciences Email author 

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Abstract

Seed dispersal by scatter hoarders is widely assumed to involve directed dispersal, in which microhabitats selected for caching also benefit seedling establishment and growth. However, in many systems, this may not be true if animal-favored cache sites do not match the safe sites for plants, or if cache sites benefit the plant in one life stage and not another. Here, we investigated whether cache sites selected by rodents are favorable for seedling establishment and growth of shade-intolerant wild apricot (Prunus armeniaca Linn.) in northern China. We tracked tagged seeds and compared the germination and growth of seedlings from rodent-cached seeds with that of naturally established seedlings in a secondary forest and shrubland stand. Rodents preferred to cache seeds under shrubs with medium canopy cover (31–60 %) in litter substrate in the secondary forest, and under shrubs with high canopy cover (>60 %) in soil or litter substrate in the shrubland stand, neither of which conveyed an advantage for seedling establishment. Although fewer caches were made along shrub edges, or under low canopy cover (≤30 %) in the secondary forest, or along shrub edges, open areas of grass, or under low canopy cover in the shrubland stand, these cache sites consistently contributed to higher survival rates. The microhabitats of grass, soil, or low canopy cover significantly promoted the emergence, survival, and growth of naturally established seedlings. Our results are best explained by the conflicting demands of rodents for caching seeds in more secure sites and P. armeniaca’s high-light requirements for seedling recruitment. We argue that the relationship between favored cache sites for seed hoarders and safe sites for plants will often not match but may still allow a reasonable rate of establishment and regeneration.

Keywords

Prunus armeniaca Linn. Safe site Scatter hoarding Seed dispersal Seed survival Seedling establishment Seedling growth