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Ecology. 2007 Dec;88(12):3076-87.

Seed predation by Neotropical rain forest mammals increases diversity in seedling recruitment.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA.


Seed dispersal and seedling recruitment (the transition of seeds to seedlings) set the spatiotemporal distribution of new individuals in plant communities. Many terrestrial rain forest mammals consume post-dispersal seeds and seedlings, often inflicting density-dependent mortality. In part because of density-dependent mortality, diversity often increases during seedling recruitment, making it a critical stage for species coexistence. We determined how mammalian predators, adult tree abundance, and seed mass interact to affect seedling recruitment in a western Amazonian rain forest. We used exclosures that were selectively permeable to three size classes of mammals: mice and spiny rats (weighing <1 kg), medium-sized rodents (1-12 kg), and large mammals (20-200 kg). Into each exclosure, we placed seeds of 13 tree species and one canopy liana, which varied by an order of magnitude in adult abundance and seed mass. We followed the fates of the seeds and resulting seedlings for at least 17 months. We assessed the effect of each mammalian size class on seed survival, seedling survival and growth, and the density and diversity of the seedlings that survived to the end of the experiment. Surprisingly, large mammals had no detectable effect at any stage of seedling recruitment. In contrast, small- and medium-sized mammals significantly reduced seed survival, seedling survival, and seedling density. Furthermore, predation by small mammals increased species richness on a per-stem basis. This increase in diversity resulted from their disproportionately intense predation on common species and large-seeded species. Small mammals thereby generated a rare-species advantage in seedling recruitment, the critical ingredient for frequency dependence. Predation by small (and to a lesser extent, medium-sized) mammals on seeds and seedlings significantly increases tree species diversity in tropical forests. This is the first long-term study to dissect the effects of various mammalian predators on the recruitment of a diverse set of tree species.

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