Nutritional and environmental factors influence small mammal seed selection in a northern temperate forest

Academic Article


  • AbstractRodents can influence the succession and assembly of plant communities by preying on and dispersing seeds. Using a seed tray experiment with three common seeds, American beech (Fagus grandifolia), red maple (Acer rubrum), and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), we assessed factors that influence seed selection and foraging time of three rodents: deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), white‐footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus), and southern red‐backed voles (Myodes gapperi). All three rodents preferred beech seeds, likely due to its large size and high lipid content. However, when beech availability was low, secondary seed selection differed by rodent species with P. maniculatus equally selecting hemlock and red maple, P. leucopus preferring hemlock, and M. gapperi preferring red maple. Red maple seeds contained high levels of phenolic compounds, which hinder digestion, and the elongated cecum of M. gapperi may allow for better processing of these compounds relative to Peromyscus. Beech seeds were nearly always removed from trays intact, suggesting rodents could be important dispersers compared to the small‐seeded species, which were generally processed on trays. The influence of environmental factors on seed selection was only notable when beech seed availability was low. Beech seed availability was also the primary factor influencing foraging time on trays, with individuals increasing foraging time as beech availability decreased. Consistent with predator avoidance behaviors, denser shrub cover increased foraging time for P. maniculatus, whereas moon luminosity decreased foraging for all three species. Our findings underscore that seed quality drives seed selection but that preferences are context dependent, varying with seed availability and digestive capacity.
  • Authors

  • Moore, Nicholas B
  • Stephens, Ryan B
  • Rowe, Rebecca
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • April 2022
  • Published In

  • Ecosphere  Journal
  • Keywords

  • foraging theory
  • granivory
  • rodents
  • seed dispersal
  • seed predation
  • seed quality
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)


  • 13
  • Issue

  • 4