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Ecosystem Services from Keystone Species: Diversionary Seeding and Seed-Caching Desert Rodents Can Enhance Indian Ricegrass Seedling Establishment


  • William S. Longland,

    Corresponding author
    • U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research Service, Great Basin Rangeland Research, 920 Valley Road, Reno, NV 89512, U.S.A.
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  • Steven M. Ostoja

    1. U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Yosemite Field Station, 40298 Junction Drive, Suite A, Oakhurst, CA 93644, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to W. S. Longland, email


Seeds of Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), a native bunchgrass common to sandy soils on arid western rangelands, are naturally dispersed by seed-caching rodent species, particularly Dipodomys spp. (kangaroo rats). These animals cache large quantities of seeds when mature seeds are available on or beneath plants and recover most of their caches for consumption during the remainder of the year. Unrecovered seeds in caches account for the vast majority of Indian ricegrass seedling recruitment. We applied three different densities of white millet (Panicum miliaceum) seeds as “diversionary foods” to plots at three Great Basin study sites in an attempt to reduce rodents' over-winter cache recovery so that more Indian ricegrass seeds would remain in soil seedbanks and potentially establish new seedlings. One year after diversionary seed application, a moderate level of Indian ricegrass seedling recruitment occurred at two of our study sites in western Nevada, although there was no recruitment at the third site in eastern California. At both Nevada sites, the number of Indian ricegrass seedlings sampled along transects was significantly greater on all plots treated with diversionary seeds than on non-seeded control plots. However, the density of diversionary seeds applied to plots had a marginally non-significant effect on seedling recruitment, and it was not correlated with recruitment patterns among plots. Results suggest that application of a diversionary seed type that is preferred by seed-caching rodents provides a promising passive restoration strategy for target plant species that are dispersed by these rodents.