Journal Article
Tracking seed fates of tropical tree species: evidence for seed caching in a tropical forest in north-east India
PLoS ONEDOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134658

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Rodents affect the post-dispersal fate of seeds by acting either as on-site seed predators or as secondary dispersers when they scatter-hoard seeds. The tropical forests of north-east India harbour a high diversity of little-studied terrestrial murid and hystricid rodents. We examined the role played by these rodents in determining the seed fates of tropical evergreen tree species in a forest site in north-east India. We selected ten tree species (3 mammal-dispersed and 7 bird-dispersed) that varied in seed size and followed the fates of 10,777 tagged seeds. We used camera traps to determine the identity of rodent visitors, visitation rates and their seed-handling behavior. Seeds of all tree species were handled by at least one rodent taxon. Overall rates of seed removal (44.5%) were much higher than direct on-site seed predation (9.9%), but seed-handling behavior differed between the terrestrial rodent groups: two species of murid rodents removed and cached seeds, and two species of porcupines were on-site seed predators. In addition, a true cricket,Brachytrupessp., cached seeds of three species underground. We found 309 caches formed by the rodents and the cricket; most were single-seeded (79%) and seeds were moved up to 19 m. Over 40% of seeds were re-cached from primary cache locations, while about 12% germinated in the primary caches. Seed removal rates varied widely amongst tree species, from 3% inBeilschmiedia assamicato 97% inActinodaphne obovata. Seed predation was observed in nine species.Chisocheton cumingianus(57%) andPrunus ceylanica(25%) had moderate levels of seed predation while the remaining species had less than 10% seed predation. We hypothesized that seed traits that provide information on resource quantity would influence rodent choice of a seed, while traits that determine resource accessibility would influence whether seeds are removed or eaten. Removal rates significantly decreased (p< 0.001) while predation rates increased (p= 0.06) with seed size. Removal rates were significantly lower for soft seeds (p= 0.002), whereas predation rates were significantly higher on soft seeds (p= 0.01). Our results show that murid rodents play a very important role in affecting the seed fates of tropical trees in the Eastern Himalayas. We also found that the different rodent groups differed in their seed handling behavior and responses to changes in seed characteristics.

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