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Rodent handling of Araucaria araucana seeds



In an intermast year of very low seed production, we studied seed handling in an Araucaria araucana (Araucariaceae) forest in Neuquén Province, Argentina. Rodents identified in 844 photographs from automatic cameras removed 589 seeds marked with small embedded magnets. Within 12 days of removal, 460 were recovered using a magnetic field locator; 79% of recoveries were from burrows and caches in litter or soil. Rodents exhibited a diversity of seed-handling strategies and differed in their potential as dispersal agents. Seed removal was most likely between 15.00 hours and 21.00 hours, but diurnal and nocturnal visits were recorded for all species. Oligoryzomys longicaudatus (Cricetidae) was a seed predator that took 8% of marked seeds and left none whole. Chelemys macronyx (Cricetidae) and Rattus norvegicus (Muridae) removed 25% and 19% of marked seeds respectively. These two species deposited the majority of seeds in groups of 10 or more in burrow larders that were unfavourable seedling establishment sites far from daylight. Abrothrix longipilis (Cricetidae) removed 43% of seeds, scatter-hoarded the largest percentage of whole seeds (37%), moved some seeds farther than 40 m, and left them in favourable seedling establishment sites near daylight. For all species, the number and proportion of seeds cached whole increased as more seeds were removed. Rodents, especially A. longipilis, may play an important role in regeneration of A. araucana. Seed-handling strategies and potentially effective dispersal are discussed in terms of masting seed production.