Rodents frequently forage in a density-dependent manner, increasing harvesting in patches with greater seed densities. Although seldom considered, seed harvesting may also depend on the species identities of other individuals in the seed neighbourhood. When the seed harvest of a focal species increases in association with another seed species, the focal species suffers from Associational Susceptibility. In contrast, if seeds of the focal species are harvested less when in association with a second species, the focal species benefits from Associational Resistance.
To evaluate density dependence and associational effects among seeds in mixtures, we conducted seed removal experiments using a completely additive design patterned after a two-species competition experiment using seeds of eitherAchnatherum hymenoides(Indian ricegrass),Leymus cinereus(basin wildrye) orPseudoroegneria spicata(bluebunch wheatgrass), all native perennial grasses, combined with seeds ofBromus tectorum(cheatgrass), a non-native annual grass. The experiment involved placing five fixed quantities of the native seeds mixed with five fixed quantities ofB. tectorumseeds in a factorial design, resulting in 35 seed mixture combinations. The seed-eating rodent community at our study sites, in order of abundance, is composed ofPeromyscus maniculatus(North American deer mouse),Dipodomys ordii(Ord's kangaroo rat) andPerognathus parvus(Great Basin pocket mouse).
Native seed harvesting was density dependent, with a greater proportion of seeds being harvested as density increased. In the mixed density model, the presence ofB. tectorumdid not affect harvest of any of the native species' seeds when analysed individually. However, when all three native species were analysed together, increasing quantities ofB. tectorumresulted in reduced harvest of native seeds, demonstrating weak but significant Associational Resistance. In contrast, harvest ofB. tectorumseeds increased when in combination with any of the native seed species individually, indicating relatively strong Associational Susceptibility.
These results demonstrate that seed harvest is determined not just by seed density, but also by the local seed neighbourhood and suggest that associational effects between native seeds andB. tectorumcan occur in field conditions. The ecological implications of seed selection and associational effects on plant populations in natural and managed systems are also discussed.
Additional publication details
Seed harvesting is influenced by associational effects in mixed seed neighbourhoods, not just by seed density