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Ecological consequences of an unusual simultaneous masting of Araucaria araucana and Chusquea culeou in North‐West Patagonia, Argentina

Milesi, Fernando A., Guichón, María Laura, Monteverde, Martín J., Piudo, Luciana, Sanguinetti, Javier
Austral ecology 2017 v.42 no.6 pp. 711-722
Andes orthohantavirus, temperate forests, drought, habitats, trees, bamboos, ungulates, Araucaria araucana, reproduction, males, carnivores, conifers, seed set, grasses, winter, introduced species, Chusquea culeou, granivores, birds, understory, surveys, spring, indigenous species, environmental impact, Oligoryzomys longicaudatus, rodents, Argentina
A simultaneous masting of two abundant species in the temperate forests of North‐West Argentinean Patagonia occurred in 2013 for the first time ever recorded: the semelparous bamboo grass Chusquea culeou (colihue), dominating the understory, flowered and set seed across 1100 km² while pehuén (Araucaria araucana), an endemic conifer co‐dominating the tree layer had the highest regionally synchronized mast event in the last 30 years. Strong trophic effects were expected as a consequence of this extraordinary amount of seed, such as rodent outbreaks (ratadas) that followed previous Chusquea spp. mast events and included Oligoryzomys longicaudatus, the main reservoir of the Andes virus causing the Hantavirus Pulmonar Syndrome. From March 2013 to May 2014, we sampled relative abundance and activity of seed‐eaters and carnivores at four study sites with different proportions of both masting species. Surprisingly, total rodent capture rates never exceeded 14% in wild habitats and 8% in peridomestic areas showing low overall density in spite of some heavy O. longicaudatus males extending their reproductive activity into winter. Total abundance and relative proportion of granivorous birds peaked at the four sites in winter or spring, when they are usually scarce. Other surveyed organisms (native and exotic seed‐eaters, ungulates and carnivores) showed moderate responses at most, probably through aggregation from surrounding areas rather than reproduction. Seed removal from experimental seed stations varied in time and space though never peaked. The clearest pattern of community responses, though much subtler than expected, occurred at the site where colihue was abundant and pehuén scarce. This is the first systematic study that reports such a simultaneous double masting and our surveys revealed no widespread community consequences. We propose that either contingent events, such as an unprecedented drought, or permanent environmental features or contextual characteristics may explain the lack of a rodent outbreak in this area.