U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Shiels AB, Drake DR. 2015. Barriers to seed and seedling survival of once-common Hawaiian palms: the role of invasive rats and ungulates. AoB PLANTS 7: plv057


U.S. Government Work


Mammalian herbivores can limit plant recruitment and affect forest composition. Loulu palms (Pritchardia spp.) once dominated many lowland ecosystems in Hawai‘i, and non-native rats (Rattus spp.), ungulates (e.g. pigs Sus scrofa, goats Capra hircus) and humans have been proposed asmajor causes of their decline. In lowland wet forest, we experimentally determined the vulnerability of seeds and seedlings of two species of Pritchardia, P. maideniana and P. hillebrandii, by measuring their removal by introduced vertebrates; we also used motion-sensing cameras to identify the animals responsible for Pritchardia removal. We assessed potential seed dispersal of P. maideniana by spool-andline tracking, and conducted captive-feeding trials with R. rattus and seeds and seedlings of both Pritchardia species. Seed removal from the forest floor occurred rapidly for both species: .50 % of Pritchardia seeds were removed from the vertebrate-accessible stations within 6 days and .80 %were removed within 22 days. Although rats and pigs were both common to the study area, motion-sensing cameras detected only rats (probably R. rattus) removing Pritchardia seeds fromthe forest floor. Captive-feeding trials and spool-and-line tracking revealed that vertebrate seed dispersal is rare; rats moved seeds up to 8 m upon collection and subsequently destroyed them (100 % mortality in 24–48 h in captivity). Surprisingly, seedlings did not suffer vertebrate damage in field trials, and although rats damaged seedlings in captivity, they rarely consumed them. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis generated from palaeoecological studies, indicating that introduced rats may have assisted in the demise of native insular palm forests. These findings also imply that the seed stage of species in this Pacific genus is particularly vulnerable to rats; therefore, future conservation efforts involving Pritchardia should prioritize the reduction of rat predation on the plant recruitment stages preceding seedling establishment.

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