Although burial is known to have important effects on seed predation in a variety of habitats, the role of burial depth in affecting the removal of seeds in early-successional systems is poorly known. Phytolacca Americana (pokeweed) is a model species to examine the role of burial depth in affecting seed removal because it is common in early-successional habitats, studies suggest that seed removal is indicative of seed predation, and seed predation is related to the recruitment of mature plants. To determine how burial depth affects P. americana seed removal, 20 seeds of P. americana were buried at depths of 0, 1, or 3 cm in early-successional habitats at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina for over 6 weeks. The frequency with which seeds were encountered (as measured by the removal of at least one seed) and the proportion of seeds removed was significantly greater when seeds were on the soil surface (0 cm depth) compared to seeds that were buried 1 cm or 3 cm; there was no difference in encounter or removal between seeds at 1 cm or 3 cm. Our findings suggest that burial may have important consequences for P. americana population dynamics, because seed survival depends upon whether or not the seed is buried, and relatively shallow burial can yield large increases in seed survival. Because seed limitation is known to be an important determinant of plant community composition in early-successional systems, our work suggests that burial may play an unappreciated role in the dynamics of these communities by reducing predator-mediated seed limitation.
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