Graduation Year

2006

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Granting Department

Biology

Major Professor

Gordon A. Fox, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Susan S. Bell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Henry R. Mushinsky, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ronald J. Sarno, Ph.D.

Keywords

caching, predation, small mammals, wind dispersal, microhabitat, weevil infestation

Abstract

Studies of secondary seed dispersal by small mammals have largely been focused

on the interaction between nut-bearing tree species and sciurid rodents such as squirrels,

and on heteromyid rodents in the southwestern United States. However, there is now

evidence that wind-dispersed tree species such as pines also undergo a process of

secondary seed dispersal, where animals redistribute (cache) seeds that have already

fallen to the ground, often in microhabitats more suitable for successful seed germination.

In Florida sandhill, where fire suppression has threatened wind-dispersed longleaf pine

(

Pinus palustris) by encouraging the encroachment of hardwoods such as sand live oak

(

Quercus geminata), secondary seed dispersal may be an important factor in determining

community composition and persistence of longleaf pine systems. Using a combination

of seed depots and seed predator exclosures, I looked at both longleaf pine and sand live

oak in terms of whether small animals such as squirrels (

Sciurus carolinensis) and cotton

mice (

Peromyscus gossypinus) cache the seeds, and where the seeds of these two tree

species best germinate. Since sand live oak acorns are prone to infestation by weevils

(

Curculio spp.), I also examined whether nut condition affects acorn germination

potential. I found that longleaf pine seeds are cached by small mammals to a small

degree. While these seeds are not moved great distances from where they originate, they

are often redistributed into microhabitats that promote successful seed germination.

Caging experiments indicated that seeds were most likely to germinate when buried in

open areas between adult trees, and to some degree, under shrub cover. On the other

hand, sand live oak acorns appear to face heavy predation by large seed predators such as

raccoons (

Procyon lotor) and wild pigs (Sus scrofa). Those acorns that do escape

predation, including weevil-infested acorns, may provide an opportunity for seedling

establishment. However, it appears that sand live oak depends heavily on vegetative

sprouting for regeneration. This suggests that even in the absence of fire, longleaf pines

in Florida sandhill are able to persist through secondary seed dispersal by small animals

coupled with heavy seed predation on competing sand live oak.

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