Incomplete recovery of seeds from scatterhoards by granivorous rodents: Implications for plant establishment

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Abstract

Granivorous rodents are important components of ecosystems not only because they consume seeds but also because some aid in seed dispersal through seed-caching behaviors. Some rodents bury seeds in shallow pits throughout territories, called scatterhoards, that individuals recover, pilfer, or transfer to other caches. We suspect some single-seed caches in environments represent missed seeds from reclaiming or pilfering caches. We documented the sloppiness of seed removal from scatterhoards of soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca) seeds by Ord's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys ordii). We quantified the frequency and location of seeds remaining. In an experiment with artificial caches of three sizes, kangaroo rats harvested 51% of caches after one night, and 53% had incomplete recovery with at least one seed remaining. The greater the number of seeds in caches, the greater frequency of incomplete recovery. In another experiment with natural and artificial caches, 75% of caches were excavated after 8 days, with at least 70% having at least one seed remaining. Regardless of original cache size, a single seed represented the mode for seeds remaining. Incomplete recovery of seeds likely benefits plant establishment, potentially significantly in some systems. Remaining seeds, especially those buried at bottoms of caches, likely will stay undetected in landscapes, yielding propagules for subsequent plant generations. Soapweed yucca has large but light, flat wind-dispersed seeds, and removal of caches with smaller seeds might have greater frequency of missed seeds during recovery and pilfering by rodents. Our results suggest that scatter-hoarding granivores also contribute to plant establishment by leaving limited numbers of seeds behind when removing caches, at least in some systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere8523
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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