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Geographical variation in the potential of mice to constrain an ant-seed dispersal mutualism


  • J. M. Fedriani,

  • P. J. Rey,

  • J. L. Garrido,

  • J. Guitián,

  • C. M. Herrera,

  • M. Medrano,

  • A. M. Sánchez-Lafuente,

  • X. Cerdá

J. M. Fedriani, J. L. Garrido, C. M.Herrera, M. Medrano, A. M. Sánchez-Lafuente, X.Cerdá, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, Apartado 1056, ES-41080 Sevilla, Spain ( – P. J. Rey, Depto de Biología Animal, Vegetal y Ecología, Área de Ecología, Universidad de Jaén, ES-23071 Jaén, Spain. – J. Guitián, Depto de Botánica, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Santiago (USC), Campus Sur, ES-15782 Santiago, Spain.


Pre- and post-dispersal Helleborus foetidus (Ranunculaceae) seed predation by mice Apodemus sylvaticus as well as post-dispersal seed removal by ants was studied, during two years, in six plant populations within three geographical regions (Caurel, Cazorla and Mágina) of the Iberian Peninsula. An observational approach revealed strong interregional differences in seed predation by mice during the pre-dispersal phase, with high and similar rates of predation in Cazorla and Mágina and much lower rates in Caurel. There were also significant inter-annual variations on pre-dispersal seed predation by mice, while the existing habitat-related differences (of lower magnitude) were not consistent across regions. Field experiments based on seed-offering exclosures, showed that, despite some interregional variation, post-dispersal seed removal by ants was consistently high through all spatial and temporal scales considered, with most seeds being removed within 48 h. Conversely, post-dispersal seed predation by mice was highly variable among regions, being very high in Cazorla and minimal or absent in Caurel and Mágina. Interestingly, in Cazorla, in presence of mice, the number of seeds removed was rather independent of the presence/absence of ants, while under mice exclusion, it was determined by the presence/absence of ants. Conversely, in Caurel, the number of seeds removed by each remover agent (ants or mice) was independent of the presence/absence of the other agent. Thus, though uniquely in Cazorla, mice limited the number of seeds available to ants and, therefore, in this region could potentially have interfered on the development of seed traits that enable ants to efficiently harvest them. Our results support the notion that geographical variation over the Iberian Peninsula of mice seed predation may have promoted a mosaic of well-matching and mismatching situations between H. foetidus diaspore traits and the characteristics of ant communities, which is consistent with some recent theories on the geographical structure of interactions.