Agoutis are one of the key players in the rainforest ecosystem (I wrote about them here for a guest blog post on species interactions). This fascinating project is looking at agoutis and their role in seed dispersal on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Check out their ‘Background’ page for more info about how they track where seeds end up.
One of the big discoveries of our project is that agoutis disperse Astrocaryum palm nuts in a complex step-wise manner: agoutis bury a seed, then dig it up and move it to another site over and over again. While collecting data in the field, and following seeds from one place to another over many weeks, we noticed that the movements didn’t seem to be completely random with respect to the surrounding trees. Astrocaryum palm trees are very conspicuous because they are covered in big spines, you have to keep an eye out for them when your walking off trail to avoid getting pricked. When tracking down radio-tagged seeds, it almost seemed as though the seeds ended up in areas far away from other Astrocaryum trees. If this was true, this could be a really important phenomenon, because of something known as “Janzen-Connell effects”.
Janzen-Connell effects, first identified by Drs Janzen and Connell…
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