Heteromyid rodents in the deserts of North America have been shown to harvest large quantities of seeds of both native and introduced plants from soil seed banks, but rarely has the impact of this seed removal been demonstrated experimentally. I used a series of fenced plots (some of which excluded rodents) to demonstrate that heteromyids at a western Nevada study site can measurably reduce seed banks and subsequent seedling establishment of Salsola paulsenii, an introduced invasive weed that has become a significant problem over much of the desert Southwest. The frequency of S. paulsenii seedlings in both 2004 and 2005 was significantly greater around the interior perimeters of plots that permitted access by rodents than in plots that excluded rodents. Density of S. paulsenii seedlings was significantly greater inside than outside rodent exclusion plots, but there was no such difference in seedling density inside versus outside plots that permitted rodent access. Salsola paulsenii has such a conspicuous presence in many desert environments that the effect of rodents in reducing its abundance may not be visually apparent; however, rodents may still ameliorate competitive effects of this weed on coexisting plants. Heteromyid rodents disperse seeds through caching, and they also consume them. Caching may enhance establishment of native plant seedlings, but is unlikely to benefit exotics such as S. paulsenii.
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Vol. 67 • No. 3