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When losing your nuts increases your reproductive success: sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) nut caching by the woylie (Bettongia penicillata)

Murphy, M., Howard, K.ORCID: 0000-0003-3977-1243, Hardy, G.E.St.J. and Dell, B. (2015) When losing your nuts increases your reproductive success: sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) nut caching by the woylie (Bettongia penicillata). Pacific Conservation Biology, 21 (3). pp. 243-252.

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To regenerate sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) stands in south-Western Australia it is necessary to understand the complex relationship between woylies (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi) and sandalwood. Sandalwood requires a seed disperser for successful recruitment and in the past the critically endangered woylie played an important role in dispersing and caching seeds, but it is not clear whether this mutualistic and antagonistic relationship is beneficial to regeneration efforts. An enclosure in a woodland and 46Scandium-labelled seeds, enabled study of the in situ predation of seeds, caching, the fate of cached seeds, the detection of cached seeds and predation of germinated seeds. Woylies preferentially cached sandalwood, then S. acuminatum seeds, before any interest was shown in Acacia acuminata and Gastrolobium microcarpum seeds, which were virtually all eaten in situ. Of a further 500 radiolabelled and individually numbered sandalwood seeds deployed, 42.2% were eaten in situ, 20.8% had an unknown fate and 37% were cached, with some seeds being recached up to four times. After nine months, only four cached seeds remained undisturbed. Olfaction appeared to be the primary method of cache detection. To examine the recruitment rate of cached seeds, the fate of 89 transplanted sandalwood seedlings at two study sites was followed. After one month 38% were intact and growing, but half of the transplanted seedlings were dug up and the remaining endosperm was eaten in situ or taken away. The results highlight the potential of providing seed supplies, including sandalwood seeds and seeds of their hosts, to seed-dispersal marsupials for passive ecosystem repair.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Copyright: © CSIRO 2015.
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