Although post-dispersal seed predators are common and often reduce seed density, their influence on plant population abundance remains unclear. On the one hand, increasing evidence suggests that many plant populations are seed limited, implying that seed predators could reduce plant abundance. On the other hand, it is generally uncertain whether the magnitude of seed limitation imposed by granivores is strong enough to overcome density-dependent processes that could compensate for seed loss at later stages. We examined the impact of seed predation by small mammals, primarily deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), on seedling recruitment and subsequent plant establishment of two perennial grassland forbs in western Montana, USA: Lupinus sericeus (Fabaceae) and Lithospermum ruderale (Boraginaceae). The experiment combined graded densities of seed addition for each species with a small-mammal exclusion treatment. Seedling recruitment and plant establishment were monitored in the experimental plots for up to three years. For both species, small-mammal exclusion increased the total number of seedlings that emerged, and these effects were still significant three years after seed addition, resulting in greater numbers of established plants inside exclosures than in control plots. We also found evidence of seed limitation, with increasing density of seeds added leading to increased numbers of seedlings. Results from seed addition and small-mammal exclusion experiments in later years also revealed significant impacts of small mammals on seedling emergence. These results suggest that granivores can have potentially important impacts in limiting forb abundance in grasslands communities.
Copyright 2010 by the Ecological Society of America. Mary Bricker, Dean Pearson, and John Maron 2010. Small-mammal seed predation limits the recruitment and abundance of two perennial grassland forbs. Ecology 91:85–92. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/08-1773.1.