• frugivorous vertebrate;
  • scatter-hoarding rodents;
  • Scleropyrum wallichianum;
  • seed dispersal;
  • seedling recruitment


Local extinction or population decline of large frugivorous vertebrates as primary seed dispersers, caused by human disturbance and habitat change, might lead to dispersal limitation of many large-seeded fruit trees. However, it is not known whether or not scatter-hoarding rodents as secondary seed dispersers can help maintain natural regeneration (e.g. seed dispersal) of these frugivore-dispersed trees in the face of the functional reduction or loss of primary seed dispersers. In the present study, we investigated how scatter-hoarding rodents affect the fate of tagged seeds of a large-seeded fruit tree (Scleropyrum wallichianum Arnott, 1838, Santalaceae) from seed fall to seedling establishment in a heavily defaunated tropical forest in the Xishuangbanna region of Yunnan Province, in southwest China, in 2007 and 2008. Our results show that: (i) rodents removed nearly all S. wallichianum seeds in both years; (ii) a large proportion (2007, 75%; 2008, 67.5%) of the tagged seeds were cached individually in the surface soil or under leaf litters; (iii) dispersal distance of primary caches was further in 2007 (19.6 ± 14.6 m) than that in 2008 (14.1 ± 11.6 m), and distance increased as rodents recovered and moved seeds from primary caches into subsequent caching sites; and (iv) part of the cached seeds (2007, 3.2%; 2008, 2%) survived to the seedling stage each year. Our study suggests that by taking roles of both primary and secondary seed dispersers, scatter-hoarding rodents can play a significant role in maintaining seedling establishment of S. wallichianum, and are able to at least partly compensate for the loss of large frugivorous vertebrates in seed dispersal.