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Frugivory by introduced black rats (Rattus rattus) promotes dispersal of invasive plant seeds

Shiels, Aaron B.
Biological invasions 2011 v.13 no.3 pp. 781-792
Buddleja, Casuarina equisetifolia, Clidemia hirta, Ficus, Miconia calvescens, Prosopis pallida, Rattus rattus, Rubus, digestive system, ecosystems, fruits, indigenous species, introduced plants, invasive species, islands, mortality, predation, rats, rodent control, seed dispersal, seeds, Hawaii
Oceanic islands have been colonized by numerous non-native and invasive plants and animals. An understanding of the degree to which introduced rats (Rattus spp.) may be spreading or destroying seeds of invasive plants can improve our knowledge of plant-animal interactions, and assist efforts to control invasive species. Feeding trials in which fruits and seeds were offered to wild-caught rats were used to assess the effects of the most common rat, the black rat (R. rattus), on 25 of the most problematic invasive plant species in the Hawaiian Islands. Rats ate pericarps (fruit tissues) and seeds of most species, and the impacts on these plants ranged from potential dispersal of small-seeded (≤1.5 mm length) species via gut passage (e.g., Clidemia hirta, Buddleia asiatica, Ficus microcarpa, Miconia calvescens, Rubus rosifolius) to predation where <15% of the seeds survived (e.g., Bischofia javanica, Casuarina equisetifolia, Prosopis pallida, Setaria palmifolia). Rats consumed proportionally more seed mass of the smaller fruits and seeds than the larger ones, but fruit and seed size did not predict seed survival following rat interactions. Although invasive rat control efforts focus on native species protection, non-native plant species, especially those with small seeds that may pass internally through rats, also deserve rat control in order to help limit the spread of such seeds. Black rats may be facilitating the spread of many of the most problematic invasive plants through frugivory and seed dispersal in Hawaii and in other ecosystems where rats and plants have been introduced.