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Keywords:

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

Abstract

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.