Granivory in California sage scrub: implications for common plant invaders and ecosystem conservation.
Seed predation may influence community assembly and invasion dynamics when seed predators preferentially select some seed species over others. However, the role of different seed predators and their preferences for seeds in multiple ecological contexts, including the endangered California sage scrub ecosystem, remain unresolved making predictions about which processes limit or promote invasions difficult. In addition, selection criteria, specifically how seed size and biogeographic origin (native versus invasive) influences selection, requires further research across multiple granivore guilds. We examined seed predator preference for common native and invasive seeds across small and large seed classes using seed dish experiments with motion-sensor video observation. We also quantified the relative importance of ants, birds, and mammals as seed predators in sage scrub. Community-wide, granivores preferred the small-seeded invasive mustard Brassica nigra, avoided the large-seeded invasive grass Bromus rubens and the native large-seeded shrub Encelia californica, and did not show significant selection or avoidance for the small-seeded native shrub Salvia apiana. Birds, notably California towhees (Melozone crissalis), were the most frequent granivore while rodents and ants rarely removed seeds. This study reveals that birds are important seed predators in California sage scrub and have the potential to contribute to biotic resistance to mustard invasions (Brassica nigra and potentially others).