OF MICE AND OAKS. Conditional outcomes in a seed-dispersal mutualism

Rodents like to wood mouse store acorns to overcome winter, but some of the stored acorns are never retrieved by the rodents. Those acorns that are not retrieved have a chance to germinate and establish into a new tree. Thus, the interaction between mice and oaks is potentially mutualistic.

However, the interaction is only mutualistic when the acorns are placed in locations where germination is likely to take place. The aim of this study was to investigate whether and how the strategy of hoarding (i.e. storing the seeds) depended on the presence of wild boar (who are very fond of acorns too!), de abundance of acorns and the abundance of mice in the area. Wild boar did not seem to be very capable to detect the acorns that had been hidden in the soil by the rodents, and as a consequence they seem to have little effect on the hoarding strategy of rodents. The abundance of rodents and of acorns does affect the hoarding patterns of rodents. With more competition (i.e. more mice or fewer acorns), seeds are hidden more quickly and are being scattered more widely. The acorns benefit from this, as their chance to survive and successfully establish as a new tree increases with dispersal distance and seed spacing.