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Re-caching of acorns by rodents: Cache management in eastern deciduous forests of North America

Bartlow, Andrew W., Lichti, Nathanael I., Curtis, Rachel, Swihart, Robert K., Steele, Michael A.
Acta oecologica 2018 v.92 pp. 117-122
Quercus rubra, Sciurus carolinensis, deciduous forests, food storage, fruits, home range, ingestion, plant establishment, radio frequency identification, radio telemetry, radio transmitters, seed dispersal, seeds, squirrels, trees, North America
Scatter-hoarding rodents such as tree squirrels selectively cache seeds for subsequent use in widely-spaced caches placed below the ground surface. This behavior has important implications for seed dispersal, seedling establishment, and tree regeneration. Hoarders manage these caches by recovering and eating some seeds, and moving and re-caching others. This process of re-caching, however, is poorly understood. Here, we use radio-telemetry to evaluate re-caching behavior for the management of acorn caches by rodents in eastern deciduous forests. We also test the hypothesis that as seeds are re-cached, the distance from the source increases. Radio transmitters were implanted in Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) acorns and presented to rodents in a natural setting over 3 seasons. We used radio-telemetry to track and document evidence of recovery and re-caching. We tracked a total of 102 acorns. Of the 39 radio-tagged acorns initially cached, 19 (49%) were cached on two or more occasions; one acorn was cached four times. The hypothesis that rodents move seeds to progressively greater distances from the source is not well-supported, suggesting that acorns are being moved within an individual's home range. Given the species of rodents in the study area, gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are the most likely to be responsible for the caching and re-caching events. Gray squirrels appear to engage in extensive re-caching during periods of long-term food storage, which has important implications for understanding how caching behavior influences acorn dispersal and oak regeneration.