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Ecology. 2009 Nov;90(11):3023-32.

Seed size, more than nutrient or tannin content, affects seed caching behavior of a common genus of Old World rodents.

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CAS Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mengla, Yunnan Province 666303, China.


Scatter-hoarding rodents play an important dispersal role for many large-seeded plants. Seed traits affect their foraging behavior; however, it is difficult to isolate their effects because of the covariance among traits. Here, we used artificial seeds to partition the effects of seed size, tannin content, and nutrient content on scatter-hoarding rodents in a natural pine forest in Northwest Yunnan, China. Apodemus, a common genus of Old World rodents, consistently consumed small seeds in situ but removed medium-sized seeds (1.2-2.5 cm in diameter) and transported bigger seeds farther. Seed nutrient and tannin contents also significantly influenced rodents' behavior, but response varied substantially between years. Rodent behavior did involve some aspects of multivariate optimization. Our results strongly indicate that seed size is a decisive factor for scatter-hoarding rodents in the choice between seed predation and dispersal, while nutrient and tannin content played a less consistent role, possibly responding to confounding factors in the community. This result also has important implications for seed production by trees, which can improve the probability of long-distance dispersal of high-quality offspring by simply making them larger. The ability to tease apart the relative influence of different seed traits on the behavior of predators provides powerful insight into this important coevolutionary dynamic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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