Empty seeds reduce seed predation by birds in Juniperus osteosperma

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SummaryUtah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) is one of many plant species that produce large numbers of fruits containing parthenocarpic or otherwise empty or inviable seeds. We tested the hypothesis that production of empty fruits in this species results in reduced levels of predation on fertile seeds. In a population in west-central Utah, we estimated the proportion of fruits with filled seeds in trees suffering high levels of fruit destruction by the seed-eating bird Parus inornatus and in neighbouring trees similar in crown and fruit-crop size but suffering negligible predation. We found that the heavily attacked trees had higher proportions of filled seeds. Thus, juniper may benefit from producing fruits that contain no offspring. This is the first study to demonstrate that empty seeds may reduce predation by vertebrate seed eaters and the first to demonstrate discrimination based on seed filling at the level of whole plants.

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