Postdispersal Seed Predation Limits the Abundance of a Long-Lived Perennial Forb (Lithospermum Ruderale)

Mary Bricker
John L. Maron, University of Montana - Missoula

Copyright 2012 by the Ecological Society of America. Mary Bricker and John Maron 2012. Postdispersal seed predation limits the abundance of a long-lived perennial forb (Lithospermum ruderale) Ecology 93:532–543.


Loss of seeds to consumers is common in plant communities, but the degree to which these losses influence plant abundance or population growth is often unclear. This is particularly the case for postdispersal seed predation by rodents, as most studies of rodent seed predation have focused on the sources of spatiotemporal variation in seed loss but not quantified the population consequences of this loss. In previous work we showed that seed predation by deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) substantially reduced seedling recruitment and establishment of Lithospermum ruderale (Boraginaceae), a long-lived perennial forb. To shed light on how rodent seed predation and the near-term effects on plant recruitment might influence longer-term patterns of L. ruderale population growth, we combined experimental results with demographic data in stage-based population models. Model outputs revealed that rodent seed predation had a significant impact on L. ruderale population growth rate (λ). With the removal of postdispersal seed predation, the projected population growth rates increased between 0.06 and 0.12, depending on site (mean Δλ across sites = 0.08). Seed predation shifted the projected stable stage distribution of populations from one with a high proportion of young plants to one in which larger adult size classes dominate. Elasticities of vital rates also changed, with germination and growth of seedlings and young plants becoming more important with the removal of seed predation. Simulations varying the magnitude of seed predation pressure while holding other vital rates constant showed that seed predation could lower λ even if only 40% of available seeds were consumed. These results demonstrate that rodent granivory can be a potent force limiting the abundance of a long-lived perennial forb.