Rodent suppression of seedling establishment in tropical pasture
journal contributionposted on 08.05.2021, 00:09 by CA Guzmán, HF Howe, David WiseDavid Wise, RI Coates, J Zambrano
Grasses are recognized as a critical regeneration barrier in tropical pastures, yet the effects of rodents and rodent–grass interactions are not well understood. As selective foragers, rodents could shape tree communities, moderating biodiversity in regenerating tropical landscapes. We utilized a fully crossed two-way factorial design to examine the effect that grasses, rodents, and their interaction had on tree seedling establishment in pasture habitat. We followed two separate tree cohorts for 1 year each within the experimental framework. Multiple cohorts were used to better represent successional tree species variation and responses. Trees species were characterized by a gradient of seed masses and as pioneer or persistent successional type. Both cohort seedlings were altered when rodents were present compared to control treatments. In Cohort 1, rodents adversely affected seedlings of persistent tree species only in the absence of grass. In Cohort 2, seedlings of persistent tree species were decimated by rodents in the absence or presence of grass. In both cohorts, seedlings of persistent species established better in grass treatments, while seedlings of pioneer tree species were strongly suppressed. Tree species seed mass positively correlated with seedling establishment across all treatments except no grass–rodent treatments. Strong suppression of tree seedlings by rodents (Sigmodon toltecus) is a novel result in tropical land recently released from agriculture. One implication is that selective foraging by rodents on large-seeded persistent tree species may be facilitated by the removal of grass. Another implication is that temporary rodent control in pastures may permit higher establishment of deep-forest persistent species.