Despite their potential to provide mechanistic explanations of rates of seed dispersal and seed fate, the functional and numerical responses of seed predators have never been explicitly examined within this context. Therefore, we investigated the numerical response of a small-mammal seed predator, Heteromys desmarestianus, to disturbance-induced changes in food availability and evaluated the degree to which removal and fate of seeds of eight tree species in a lowland tropical forest in Belize were related to the functional response of H. desmarestianus to varying seed densities. Mark-recapture trapping was used to estimate abundance of H. desmarestianus in six 0.5-ha grids from July 2000 to September 2002. Fruit availability and seed fate were estimated in each grid, and two experiments nested within the grids were used to determine (1) the form of the functional response for nine levels of fruit density (2-32 fruits/m 2), (2) the removal rate and handling times, and (3) the total proportion of fruits removed. The total proportion of fruits removed was determined primarily by the numerical response of H. desmarestianus to fruit availability, while removal rates and the proportion of seeds eaten or cached were related primarily to the form of the functional response. However, the numerical and functional responses interacted; H. desmarestianus showed strong spatial and temporal numerical responses to total fruit availability, and their density relative to fruit availability resulted in variation in the form of the functional response. Types I, II, and III functional responses were observed, as were density-independent responses, and these responses varied both among and within fruit species. The highest proportions of fruits were eaten when the Type III functional response was detected, which was when fruit availability was high relative to H. desmarestianus population density. Numerous idiosyncratic influences on seed fate have been documented, but our results indicate that shifts in the numerical and functional responses of seed predators to seasonal and interannual variation in seed availability potentially provide a general mechanistic explanation for patterns of removal and fate for vertebrate-dispersed seeds. ?? 2009 by the Ecological Society of America.
Additional publication details
The numerical and functional responses of a granivorous rodent and the fate of Neotropical tree seeds