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Mechanisms of Seed Harvest by Heteromyid Rodents: Soil Texture Effects on Harvest Rate and Seed Size Selection

Mary V. Price and Robert H. Podolsky
Oecologia
Vol. 81, No. 2 (1989), pp. 267-273
Published by: Springer in cooperation with International Association for Ecology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4219136
Page Count: 7
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Mechanisms of Seed Harvest by Heteromyid Rodents: Soil Texture Effects on Harvest Rate and Seed Size Selection
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Abstract

Several lines of evidence show that soil texture plays an important role in the distribution of desert-dwelling heteromyid rodents. This is not surprising, since texture influences the energetic cost of digging burrows and of scratching at the soil surface to harvest buried seeds. Texture also may influence the efficiency with which seeds can be separated from the soil particles with which they are mixed. To explore mechanisms of "particle separation" by foraging heteromyids we measured seed harvest rates and size selection in the laboratory for a variety of seed sizes and soil textures. Harvest rate declined with increasing soil coarseness, and the preference for seeds of intermediate size that was apparent in fine soil disappeared when seeds were mixed with soil slightly coarser than the preferred seed size. In addition, there was evidence that particle separation efficiency is sensitive to the relative sizes of seeds and soil. A discontinuity in the function relating harvest rate to soil texture occurred at finer soil textures for small seeds than for large seeds, suggesting that harvest techniques change once soil particle diameter equals or exceeds that of seeds. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that heteromyids use a combination of gravity- and rake-sorting mechanisms for particle separation.

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