Results of a yearlong study in Panama, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of July 16, suggest that thieving rodents helped the black palm tree survive by taking over the seed-spreading role of the mighty mastodon and other extinct elephant-like creatures that are thought to have eaten these large seeds.
“The question is how this tree managed to survive for 10,000 years if its seed dispersers are extinct,” says Roland Kays, a zoologist with North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “There’s always been this mystery of how does this tree survive, and now we have a possible answer for it.”
The study showed that agoutis, rainforest rodents that hoard seeds like squirrels, repeatedly stole from their neighbors’ underground seed caches. All that pilfering moved some black palm seeds far enough from the mother tree to create favorable conditions for germination.
“We knew that these rodents would bury the seeds but we had no idea that there would be this constant digging up of the seed, moving it and burying it, over and over again,” says Kays, a member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute team. “As rodents steal the same seed many, many times, it adds up to a long-distance movement of the seed that one animal by itself could have never done.”
One seed was buried 36 times before an agouti dug it up and ate it. About 14 percent of the seeds survived until the following year.
The study, funded with a National Science Foundation grant, caught the furry thieves in the act via individual tags on agoutis, video surveillance of seed caches and tiny motion-activated transmitters attached to more than 400 seeds.
Applying such sophisticated animal tracking techniques to the plant world has the potential to improve scientists’ understanding of forest ecology and regeneration, Kays says.
“When you think about global climate change and habitats shifting, for a forest to move into new areas, trees need to have their seeds moved into new areas. This opens up a route to study how animals can help trees adjust to climate change through seed dispersal.”
Kays, a faculty member with NC State’s College of Natural Resources, was part of an international team that included scientists from Ohio State University and institutions in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany.Note to editors: An abstract of the paper follows.
Published: Online the week of July 16, 2012, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Abstract: The Neotropics have many plant species that seem to be adapted for seed dispersal by megafauna that went extinct in the late Pleistocene. Given the crucial importance of seed dispersal for plant persistence, it remains a mystery how these plants have survived more than 10,000 years without their mutualist dispersers. Here we present support for the hypothesis that secondary seed dispersal by scatterhoarding rodents has facilitated the persistence of these largeseeded species. We used miniature radio transmitters to track the dispersal of reputedly megafaunal seeds by Central American agoutis, which scatter-hoard seeds in shallow caches in the soil throughout the forest. We found that seeds were initially cached at mostly short distances and then quickly dug up again. However, rather than eating the recovered seeds, agoutis continued to move and recache the seeds, up to 36 times. Agoutis dispersed an estimated 35 percent of seeds for >100 m. An estimated 14 percent of the cached seeds survived to the next year, when a new fruit crop became available to the rodents. Serial video-monitoring of cached seeds revealed that the stepwise dispersal was caused by agoutis repeatedly stealing and recaching each other’s buried seeds. Although previous studies suggest that rodents are poor dispersers, we demonstrate that communities of rodents can in fact provide highly effective long-distance seed dispersal. Our ﬁndings suggest that thieving scatter-hoarding rodents could substitute for extinct megafaunal seed dispersers of tropical large-seeded trees.Dr. Roland Kays, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Skype at roland.kays
D’Lyn Ford | Newswise Science News
Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences
Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University
Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...
On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...
The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...
At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.
When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...
At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.
Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...
16.03.2018 | Event News
13.03.2018 | Event News
08.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences
16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
16.03.2018 | Life Sciences