Scatter-hoarding rodents use different foraging strategies for seeds from different plant species
Seed predation and dispersal by scatter-hoarding rodents are key processes that determine seed survival, and thus, plant regeneration within forests. For decades, there has been much debate on the important effects of seed size (one of the most important seed traits) on rodent foraging preference. Furthermore, the possible selective forces in the evolution of seed size may be influenced by primary selectivity and how rodents treat seeds after harvesting. In this study, different-sized seeds from four species (Pinus armandii, Pinus densata, Abies sp., and Viburnum sp.) harvested by scatter-hoarding rodents were studied in an alpine forest in Southwestern China for two consecutive years. Our results showed that seed size influenced rodent foraging preferences, with bigger seeds being preferred over smaller seeds, within and across species. Rodents only removed and cached the larger seeds of P. armandii, and ate the seeds of the other three species in situ. Rodents are purely seed predators for these three species. For the cached seeds of P. armandii, significantly positive correlations were observed between seed size and dispersal distance among both primary and secondary cached seeds in 2006, but not in 2005. Our results indicate that among many coexisting species with widely different-sized seeds, scatter-hoarding rodents played important roles in the seed dispersal of the big-seeded species alone. This caching behavior could offset the limited seed dispersal of large-seeded and wingless species (P. armandii), in comparison with that of small winged seed species (P. densata and Abies sp.) and frugivore-dispersed species (Viburnum sp.).
KeywordsSeed size Seed dispersal Seed predation Rodent Cache
We thank Ms. Xiaolan Yang for help with the field data collection. We acknowledge Mr. Zhendong Fang, director of Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Garden for logistical support for fieldwork. This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31100315) and the Knowledge Innovation Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (KSCX2-SW-123).
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