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Effects of forest fragmentation on the oak–rodent mutualism

Morán‐López, Teresa, Fernández, Miguel, Alonso, Cesar Luis, Flores‐Rentería, Dulce, Valladares, Fernando, Díaz, Mario
Oikos 2015 v.124 no.11 pp. 1482-1491
animal behavior, breeding, environmental factors, foraging, fruits, habitat fragmentation, habitats, intraspecific competition, land use change, mice, mutualism, predators, seed dispersal
Land‐use changes are expected to affect plant–disperser conditional mutualisms through changes in animal behavior. We analyzed the oak–rodent conditional mutualism in Mediterranean fragmented forests at two climatically different locations. We quantified fragmentation effects on seed dispersal effectiveness and assessed if such effects were due to changes in habitat structure and intraspecific competition for acorns in fragmented areas. Fragmentation decreased cover from predators within mouse territories as well as intraspecific competition for acorns. This resulted in lower dispersal effectiveness in small forest fragments. Globally, habitat structure was the main driver in mouse foraging decisions. In small fragments, low shelter availability precluded mouse movements, leading to short mobilization distances and low caching rates. However, as the proportion of cover from predators increased, mice were able to modulate their foraging decisions depending on intraspecific competition for acorns, resulting in higher dispersal quality. In addition to fragmentation effects, delayed breeding in the southern locality caused lower number of rodents during the dispersal season, which reduced acorn mobilization rates. Our study shows that seed dispersal patterns in managed systems can be analyzed as the result of management effects on key environmental factors in dispersers’ foraging decisions.