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A Multi-species Assessment of Post-dispersal Seed Predation in the Central Chilean Andes

Annals of botany 2006 v.98 no.1 pp. 193-201
interspecific variation, herbs, species dispersal, seeds, shrubs, Sisyrinchium, wind, seed dispersal, seed predation, Azorella, Taraxacum officinale, ecosystems, Formicidae, altitude, Alstroemeria, Chuquiraga, birds, Andes region
BACKGROUND: and Aims Post-dispersal seed predation in alpine communities has received little attention despite evidence that seeds removed by granivores can decrease plant recruitment into ecosystems. Moreover, few studies have assessed the effects of removal of seeds of a range of species after dispersal on the seeds remaining in ecosystems. A comparison was made of the magnitude of seed removal by ants and birds of nine different shrubby-, herbaceous- and cushion-plant species in the central Chilean Andes in order to assess the interactions between birds, ants and wind, and the types of seeds. METHODS: A total of 324 soil-covered plates, each containing 50 seeds of one species, were placed in the field at an altitude of 2700 m and assigned to one of four treatments: control, exclusion of ants, birds, and both. The design also allowed the effects of wind to be assessed. Seed removal from plates was monitored over 20 d. Key Results Mean accumulative seed removal by granivores averaged over all nine species combined was 25 %. However, large differences between species were evident, with limited seed removal (3-11 %) in three herbaceous species (Alstroemeria pallida, Sisyrinchium arenarium, Pozoa coriacea), moderate (18-33 %) in five species, including a shrub (Chuquiraga oppositifolia), two herbs (Taraxacum officinale, Rhodophiala rhodolirion), and two cushion-plants (Laretia acaulis, Azorella monantha), and substantial (78 %) in the shrub Anarthrophyllum cumingii. The magnitudes of losses caused by birds compared with ants did not differ for the majority of species, although removal by birds was greater than by ants in A. cumingii, and smaller for C. oppositifolia. CONCLUSIONS: Post-dispersal seed removal is shown to be an important cause of decreased potential plant species recruitment into alpine ecosystems. The substantial differences in the magnitude of seed losses to ants and birds demonstrate the need for evaluation of seed removal on a wide range of species in any given ecosystem.