Context . Scatter-hoarding rodents tend to hoard plant seeds in preferred places that facilitate seed survival, resulting in high food rewards for hoarders and a high probability of seedling establishment for plants.
Aims . To test the hypothesis that caches placed in rodent-preferred microhabitats, nearest-neighbour distances between caches (cache density) or cache depths have an increased chance of survival.
Methods . Rodent-made caches and observer-established caches of Himalayan hazelnut (Corylus ferox) seeds were tracked in a subtropical primary forest in central China. The survival of caches within rodent-preferred microhabitats, nearest-neighbour distances and cache depths were identified.
Key results . Rodents preferred to hoard Himalayan hazelnut seeds in microhabitats under and at the edge of shrubs, with the nearest-neighbour distance of <4.0 m, and at 2.1–4.0-cm depth. The survival times of both rodent-made caches and observer-established caches were longer within rodent-preferred microhabitats than in other habitats and increased with an increasing nearest-neighbour distance and cache depth, up to what appeared to be an optimal nearest-neighbour distance and depth.
Conclusions . Conditions of rodent-preferred cache microhabitats, nearest-neighbour distances and cache depths can facilitate cache survival.
Implications . Rodents often move plant seeds away from parent trees and bury them in shallow soil, which benefits seed dispersal and establishment of plants. The present study demonstrates that rodent-preferred cache conditions may translate into higher seed survival and a higher tendency of seeds to germinate and establish. Thus, careful management and conservation of rodent-preferred hoarding habitats may benefit seed dispersal and survival.