The interplay among acorn abundance and rodent behavior drives the spatial pattern of seedling recruitment in mature Mediterranean oak forests

Sunyer P., Boixadera E., Munoz A., Bonal R., Espelta J.M. (2015) The interplay among acorn abundance and rodent behavior drives the spatial pattern of seedling recruitment in mature Mediterranean oak forests. PLoS ONE. 10: 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0129844

Abstract:

The patterns of seedling recruitment in animal-dispersed plants result from the interactions among environmental and behavioral variables. However, we know little on the contribution and combined effect of both kinds of variables. We designed a field study to assess the interplay between environment (vegetation structure, seed abundance, rodent abundance) and behavior (seed dispersal and predation by rodents, and rooting by wild boars), and their contribution to the spatial patterns of seedling recruitment in a Mediterranean mixed-oak forest. In a spatially explicit design, we monitored intensively all environmental and behavioral variables in fixed points at a small spatial scale from autumn to spring, as well as seedling emergence and survival. Our results revealed that the spatial patterns of seedling emergence were strongly related to acorn availability on the ground, but not by a facilitationeffect of vegetation cover. Rodents changed seed shadows generated by mother trees by dispersing most seeds from shrubby to open areas, but the spatial patterns of acorn dispersal/predation had no direct effect on recruitment. By contrast, rodents had a strong impact on recruitment as pilferers of cached seeds. Rooting by wild boars also reduced recruitment by reducing seed abundance, but also by changing rodent's behavior towards higher consumption of acorns in situ. Hence, seed abundance and the foraging behavior of scatter-hoarding rodents and wild boars are driving the spatial patterns of seedling recruitment in this mature oak forest, rather than vegetation features. The contribution of vegetation to seedling recruitment (e.g. facilitation by shrubs) may be context dependent, having a little role in closed forests, or being overridden by directed seed dispersal from shrubby to open areas. We warn about the need of using broad approaches that consider the combined action of environment and behavior to improve our knowledge on the dynamics of natural regeneration in forests. © 2015 Sunyer et al.

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