Scatter-hoarding by rodents is expected to benefit palm recruitment by allowing cached seeds to escape predation and to colonize new areas, but evidence that seedlings emerge from cached seeds is scarce. We aimed to assess to what extent seedling establishment of two palm species (Astrocaryum aculeatissimum and Attalea humilis) is favoured by seed caching by rodents in a large Atlantic Forest remnant. We mapped the location of conspecific seedlings within circular plots of 15-m radius around five adult individuals of each palm species, checking if seedlings established from dispersed (>2 m from parent palms) or non-dispersed seeds (0–2 m from parent palms), and from buried or unburied seeds. We found a total of 42 A. aculeatissimum seedlings and 16 A. humilis seedlings. Nearly all (98%) seedlings established from seeds dispersed away from parents (mainly located 10–15 m from parents), and 83% and 75% of seedlings of A. aculeatissimum and A. humilis, respectively, established from seeds buried in the soil. Results show that both palm species depend almost entirely on caching of seeds by rodents to establish seedlings. Our study suggests that checking for endocarps associated with established seedlings can accurately estimate the process behind seedling establishment, improving our understanding about the net outcome of seed caching for large-seeded palms.
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