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Seed dispersal of three sympatric oak species by forest rodents in the Qinling Mountains, Central China

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Abstract

Forest rodents play an essential role as seed dispersal vectors through their caching behaviors. Using seeds of Quercus aliena, Q. glandulifera, and Cyclobalanopsis engleriana (Fagaceae), which are dominant, but poorly studied species, in the Qinling Mountains, Central China, we investigated seed predation and dispersal by forest rodents in 2010 and 2011. There were significant differences in rodent seed-eating and caching strategies among the three tree species. Seeds of Q. aliena and C. engleriana had hard coats, high nutrition contents (e.g., protein, fat, and starch), and long germination schedules (C. engleriana only). They were less frequently eaten in situ, but more likely to be eaten after removal or cached. Seeds of Q. glandulifera had soft coats and low nutrition contents and were more often eaten in situ and less likely to be eaten after removal or cached. Our findings indicated that forest rodents were primarily responsible for seed predation and dispersal of these three tree species in the Qinling Mountains, and seed traits, especially coat hardness, nutrition content, and germination schedule, were important factors influencing rodent eating and caching behaviors. In addition, seed dispersal process of each tree species differed significantly between the 2 years, reflecting the effect of mast seeding on the eating and caching strategies of forest rodents.

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Acknowledgments

We are very grateful to Edanz Editing China for valuable comments and language editing on this manuscript. We thank the Foping National Nature Reserve for support. We are also very grateful to the Associate Editor and the two anonymous reviewers for their critical comments and constructive suggestions for improving the manuscript. Funds were provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31100283), the Science and Technology Program of Shaanxi Academy of Science (2011-K07), the Shaanxi Natural Science Foundation (2011JQ3003), the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (20090451366), and the State Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents (Chinese IPM1004). Experimental and animal-handling protocols comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

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Correspondence to Gang Chang.

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Chang, G., Jin, T., Pei, J. et al. Seed dispersal of three sympatric oak species by forest rodents in the Qinling Mountains, Central China. Plant Ecol 213, 1633–1642 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-012-0118-1

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Keywords

  • Fagaceae trees
  • Forest rodents
  • Seed caching
  • Seed traits
  • Mast seeding