1. The spatial distribution of dispersed seeds results from the combined action of the caching strategies followed by different granivores. Hence, it is essential to study the factors that influence seed predation and caching decisions to achieve a better understanding of the dispersal process.
2. In this study, we document how seed dispersal and the spatial patterns of natural recruitment are linked to the strategies used by granivores to protect their cached seeds from pilferage. We present a theoretical model showing that those strategies may convey benefits for both seed cachers and plants.
3. We studied the relationships among seed production, seed predation/caching, cache pilferage and plant recruitment in a savanna-like landscape of oaks dispersed by scatter-hoarding rodents.
4. Our results show that acorn-dispersing rodents were concentrated under the canopies of scattered oaks, where the theft of cached acorns increased by 77% as compared to that of the surrounding open landscape. Acorns were thus cached selectively in the open areas to reduce pilferage; in fact, none of the few seeds cached beneath tree canopies survived predation by granivores (pilferage + recovery). Meanwhile, some acorns cached in the surrounding open areas were neither pilfered nor recovered and then recruited successfully. Accordingly, natural recruitment of newly emerged seedlings was higher outside than under canopies, suggesting that rodent caching strategies have direct implications for the directed dispersal of oaks.
5. Synthesis. The spatial patterns of seed dispersal shape the fitness of both the plant because they influence dispersal and recruitment efficiency, and the granivores that cache and predate its seeds because they influence their foraging efficiency. Cache protection strategies reduce pilferage significantly and enhance seed recovery rates by the cache owner. At the same time, more seeds remain dispersed and unrecovered. Thus, cache protection strategies can provide net benefits to the plant in terms of effective directed dispersal.