Long-term seed survival and dispersal dynamics in a rodent-dispersed tree: testing the predator satiation hypothesis and the predator dispersal hypothesis
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- Mast seeding in animal-dispersed plants has previously been accounted for by two main hypotheses: the predator satiation hypothesis (that it increases seed survival and establishment before dispersal) and the predator dispersal hypothesis (that it increases seed dispersal or dispersal distance). However, neither hypothesis has been rigorously tested with simultaneous data on seed production, seed predation and seed dispersal by vertebrate seed predators.
- We studied oil tea Camellia oleifera (Theaceae) seed production for eight years (2002–2009) in a subtropical forest in south-west China, and investigated how annual seed and rodent abundance determined per capita seed availability for rodent seed predators and seed dispersers and how seed and rodent abundance were related to seed dispersal and seed survival via scatter-hoarding. We predicted the patterns of seed dispersal and survival to test the two hypotheses about mast seeding. Edward's long-tailed rat Leopoldamys edwardsi acted as the principal seed disperser of oil tea seeds because of scatter-hoarding, while other sympatric rodent species acted only as seed predators.
- We first provided a reasonable method to estimate per capita seed availability based on annual seed abundance and annual metabolic rodent abundance (corrected for metabolic-scaling body mass of each rodent species). We found that annual seed abundance, annual metabolic rodent abundance and per capita seed availability all had some significant effects on different estimators of seed fates (including dispersal distances) across each stage from seedfall to seedling establishment. Both annual seed abundance and per capita seed availability were positively correlated with pre-dispersal seed survival, but negatively correlated with scatter-hoarding (and recaching), seed survival after dispersal and dispersal distances. However, annual metabolic rodent abundance had a positive effect on scatter-hoarding, but had a negative effect on the time to cache recovery.
- Synthesis. Since greater seed production was associated with improvement in pre-dispersal survival of oil tea seeds but a reduction in dispersal (including secondary dispersal and dispersal distance), our long-term study indicates that, compared with the predator dispersal hypothesis, the predator satiation hypothesis provides a better mechanism predicting seed dispersal and seed survival in animal-dispersed plants by integrating seed abundance and animal abundance.