Dissecting the decision making process of scatter-hoarding rodents

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Many animals scatter-hoard seeds to ensure an even supply of food throughout the year and this behavior requires similar foraging decisions. Seed-traits have been shown to affect the final foraging decision but little is known about the decision process itself. Here, we first defined four sequential steps comprising the decision process of scatter-hoarding rodents: 1) upon encountering a seed, should it be ignored or manipulated; 2) if manipulated, should it be eaten in situ or removed elsewhere; 3) upon removal, how far away should it be carried; and finally 4) whether to eat or cache the removed seed. Using experimental seeds with controlled differences in size, tannin and nutrient content, we evaluated how different traits influence each step in this decision process. We found that different traits had distinct effects on each step. Seed size affected all four steps, while nutrient and tannin content primarily affected the first and third steps. By dissecting foraging behavior in relation to experimentally controlled seed-traits, we have created an effective framework within which to understand the unique relationship between scatter-hoarding rodents that both predate and disperse plant seeds.

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