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Rodent seed predation promotes differential recruitment among bird-dispersed trees in temperate secondary forests

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We investigated the role of seed predation by rodents in the recruitment of the fleshy-fruited trees Taxus baccata, Ilex aquifolium and Crataegus monogyna in temperate secondary forests in NW Spain. We measured the densities of dispersed seeds, early emerged seedlings, established recruits and adults, at four sites over a period of 2 years. Seed predation among species was compared by seed removal experiments and analysis of rodent larder-hoards. The three species differed markedly in local regeneration patterns. The rank order in the seed rain following decreasing seed density was Ilex, Taxus and Crataegus. However, Crataegus established 3.3 times more seedlings than Taxus. For all species, there was a positive linear relationship between the density of emerged seedlings and seed density, suggesting that recruitment was seed- rather than microsite-limited. A consistent pattern of seed selection among species was exerted by rodents, which preferred Taxus and, secondarily, Ilex seeds to Crataegus seeds. Predation ranking was the inverse of that of seed protection against predators, measured as the mass of woody coat per mass unit of the edible fraction. Recruitment potential, evaluated as the ratio of seedlings to seeds, was negatively related to seed predation, with the rank order Crataegus > Ilex > Taxus. The selective early recruitment limitation exerted by predation may have a demographic effect in the long term, as judged by the positive relationship between early seedling emergence and the density of established recruits. By modulating the pre-emptive competition for seed safe sites, rodents may preclude the progressive exclusion of species that produce low numbers of seeds (i.e. Crataegus) by those dominant in seed number (i.e. Ilex, Taxus), or at least foster the evenness for site occupation among seedlings of different species.

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The comments made by Christian Körner and four anonymous referees greatly improved previous drafts of the manuscript. Susana García and Cristina Galán helped during the fieldwork. We thank Esteban Cabal for lab assistance. Christine Francis checked the English. We also acknowledge a contract from the Programme “Ramón y Cajal” (MCYT) awarded to DG, a PFPU grant (MEC) to IM, and the projects CGL2004-2936 (MEC) and BIOCON03-162 (Fundación BBVA) to DG.

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Correspondence to Daniel García.

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Communicated by Christian Koerner

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García, D., Obeso, J.R. & Martínez, I. Rodent seed predation promotes differential recruitment among bird-dispersed trees in temperate secondary forests. Oecologia 144, 435–446 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-005-0103-7

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  • Post-dispersal seed predation
  • Pre-emptive competition
  • Recruitment potential
  • Seed limitation
  • Seed traits