A telemetric thread tag for tracking seed dispersal by scatter-hoarding rodents
Ben, T.Hirsch, Roland Kays, Patrick, A.Jansen
Plant Ecology 213(6): 933-943
The seeds of many tree species are dispersed more than once, and this secondary seed dispersal is believed to enhance seedling recruitment. However, the effectiveness of secondary seed dispersal has rarely been assessed because it is difficult to track seeds until they die or germinate. We describe a new technique that uses thread tags attached to radio transmitters (telemetric thread tags) to track long-distance multistep seed dispersal by scatter-hoarding rodents. These telemetric thread tags can be turned off with a magnet and are reactivated when the seed moves. This method allows for seed tracking with minimal cache disturbance or distance bias, over long time spans, multiple seed movements, and with few effects on animal behavior. We used telemetric thread tags to track seed dispersal of the palm tree Astrocaryum standleyanum in a Neotropical forest, and achieved near-complete recovery of dispersed seeds tracked over distances as far as 241 m. We were also able to record the recovery time and fate of cached seeds without disturbing caches. Neither the removal rate nor the dispersal distance differed between seeds with telemetric thread tags and thread-tagged seeds. We conclude that telemetric thread tags can be used to document secondary seed dispersal by scatter-hoarding animals with unprecedented efficacy and precision. Given the size of these tags relative to the size of seeds and their dispersers, this method is applicable to the majority of tree species that are secondarily dispersed by scatter-hoarding mammals.