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Keywords:

  • hoarding behavior;
  • mutualism;
  • predation;
  • seed dispersal;
  • seed trait

Abstract

Although many studies have been carried out on plant–animal mutualistic assemblages, the roles of functional traits and taxonomy in determining both whether interactions involve mutualisms or predation and the structure of such assemblages are unclear. We used semi-natural enclosures to quantitatively assess the interaction strengths between seeds of 8 sympatric tree species and 4 rodent species in a tropical forest in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, Southwest China. We found 2 clusters of species in the seed–rodent network represented by 2 genera in the Fagaceae (Castanopsis, Lithocarpus). Compared to seeds of 3 Castanopsis species, seeds with heavy weight, hard coat or caloric content (including 3 Lithocarpus species) were eaten less and more frequently hoarded by rodents. In turn, hoarded seeds showed less predation and more mutualism with rodents. Our results suggest that seed traits significantly affected the hoarding behavior of rodents, and, consequently, the occurrence of mutualisms and predation as well as assemblage structure in the plant–animal seed dispersal system. Taxonomically-related species with similar seed traits as functional groups belong to the same substructures in the assemblage. Our results indicate that both seed traits and taxonomic relationships may simplify thinking about seed dispersal systems by helping to elucidate whether interactions are likely to be dominated by predation or mutualism.