Litter and seed burying alter food availability and foraging efficiency of granivorous birds in the Monte desert

Authors

  • Víctor R. Cueto,

    1. Desert Community Ecology Research Team (Ecodes), CONICET and Depto de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, FCEyN, Univ. de Buenos Aires, Pabellón 2, Piso 4, Ciudad Universitaria, C1428EHA Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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  • Fernando A. Milesi,

    1. Desert Community Ecology Research Team (Ecodes), CONICET and Depto de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, FCEyN, Univ. de Buenos Aires, Pabellón 2, Piso 4, Ciudad Universitaria, C1428EHA Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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  • Luis Marone

    1. Desert Community Ecology Research Team (Ecodes), CONICET and Depto de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, FCEyN, Univ. de Buenos Aires, Pabellón 2, Piso 4, Ciudad Universitaria, C1428EHA Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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V. R. Cueto, Desert Community Ecology Research Team (Ecodes), CONICET and Depto de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, FCEyN, Univ. de Buenos Aires, Pabellón 2, Piso 4, Ciudad Universitaria, C1428EHA Buenos Aires, Argentina. E-mail: vcueto@ege.fcen.uba.ar

Abstract

We assessed experimentally if the main granivorous bird species that feed on the ground in the central Monte desert are able to detect and consume seeds buried in the soil or trapped within litter. Understanding seed vulnerability to birds allows 1) a better understanding of how seed abundance translates into seed availability, a necessary step to assess seed limitation scenarios, and 2) whether birds alter the distribution of soil seeds through their consumption. Rufous-collared sparrows found and consumed high proportions of buried seeds, though less seeds were eaten at increasing depths. In contrast, many-colored chaco-finches, common diuca-finches and cinnamon warbling-finches did not find buried seeds. All bird species fed on every substrate offered but, as a whole, birds reduced by 50% their seed consumption in Prosopis litter, and by 30% in Larrea litter, compared to consumption in bare soil. This effect was less notable for rufous-collared sparrows, whose ‘double scratch’ foraging method would contribute to its great diet breath and abundance in the Monte desert. As birds do not reach a fraction of seeds buried and trapped by litter, seeds readily available for them may be scarcer than previously estimated through soil seed bank studies. Furthermore, since the four bird species detect and consume seeds from littered microhabitats, seed consumption by them surely affects the seasonal dynamics of the soil seed bank in all microhabitat types of the Monte desert.

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