Journal of Tropical Ecology

Seed scatterhoarding by white-tailed rats: consequences for seedling recruitment by an Australian rain forest tree

TAD C. THEIMER  a1 a2 c1
a1 Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA
a2 Ecosystems Dynamics Group, Research School of Biological Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia


The role of white-tailed rats (Uromys caudimaculatus) as dispersers of seeds of the Australian tropical rain forest tree Beilschmiedia bancroftii, (Lauraceae) was investigated by following the fates of seeds and seedlings over 2 y. Fruits of this tree are too large to be consumed by any avian frugivore except the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), and the only other native mammal capable of dispersing the seeds is the musky rat kangaroo (Hypsiprimnodon moschatus). However, neither of these species has been documented to disperse the seeds of this tree. During a mast year, white-tailed rats cached seeds an average of 13 m from parent trees in a variety of microsites. Although none of the 61 cached seeds followed in this study survived to germination, comparison of seed, cache and seedling distributions suggested that most seedlings arose from rat-cached seeds. White-tailed rats cached seeds in both mast and non-mast years, but the time seeds remained on the forest floor and in caches was significantly shorter in non-mast years, suggesting that synchronous seed production increases the probability that some caches survive to germination. Because white-tailed rats are the most common and widespread native mammal capable of dispersing large-seeds, this study suggests that they may play an important role in the seed and seedling dynamics of large-seeded tree species in Australian tropical rain forests.

(Accepted August 2 2000)

Key Words: Beilschmiedia bancroftii; masting; predator satiation; rodent; seed predation; seed size; Uromys caudimaculatus.

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