Thieving rodents as substitute dispersers of megafaunal seeds

Jansen, Patrick A., Hirsch, Ben T., Emsens, Willem-Jan, Zamora-Gutierrez, Veronica, Wikelski, Martin, and Kays, Roland (2012) Thieving rodents as substitute dispersers of megafaunal seeds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (31). pp. 12610-12615.

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Abstract

The Neotropics have many plant species that seem to be adapted for seed dispersal by megafauna that went extinct in the late Pleistocene. Given the crucial importance of seed dispersal for plant persistence, it remains a mystery how these plants have survived more than 10,000 y without their mutualist dispersers. Here we present support for the hypothesis that secondary seed dispersal by scatter-hoarding rodents has facilitated the persistence of these large-seeded species. We used miniature radio transmitters to track the dispersal of reputedly megafaunal seeds by Central American agoutis, which scatter-hoard seeds in shallow caches in the soil throughout the forest. We found that seeds were initially cached at mostly short distances and then quickly dug up again. However, rather than eating the recovered seeds, agoutis continued to move and recache the seeds, up to 36 times. Agoutis dispersed an estimated 35% of seeds for >100 m. An estimated 14% of the cached seeds survived to the next year, when a new fruit crop became available to the rodents. Serial video-monitoring of cached seeds revealed that the stepwise dispersal was caused by agoutis repeatedly stealing and recaching each other’s buried seeds. Although previous studies suggest that rodents are poor dispersers, we demonstrate that communities of rodents can in fact provide highly effective long-distance seed dispersal. Our findings suggest that thieving scatter-hoarding rodents could substitute for extinct megafaunal seed dispersers of tropical large-seeded trees.

Item ID: 44228
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: Pleistocene extinctions, seed predation, cache pilferage, telemetry
ISSN: 1091-6490
Funders: National Science Foundation (NSF), Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research (NFSR), Leiden University, Huygens Scholarship program, Fonds voor Onderzoek ten behoeve van het Natuurbehoud, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Frank Levinson Family Foundation
Projects and Grants: NSF DEB-0717071, NSFR NWO-WOTRO W85-239 and NWO-ALW 863-07- 008
Research Data: http://dx.doi.org/10.5441/001/1.9t0m888q
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2016 04:25
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060208 Terrestrial Ecology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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