Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

David Janos

Second Committee Member

Theodore Fleming

Third Committee Member

Michael S. Gaines

Fourth Committee Member

Patrick Jansen


Terrestrial mammals affect numerous aspects of plant demography, colonization, and community structure in Neotropical forests. Granivorous mammals destroy seeds via seed predation and seedlings through herbivory, negatively affecting plant fitness. Mammals can also positively affect plants by dispersing or hoarding seeds. Seed fate outcomes are contingent on the interaction between mammal seed handling strategies and the intrinsic anti-predation defenses possessed by seeds. In field experiments at La Selva Biological Station, I investigated how collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu) and Central American agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata) affect five species of large seeds that have various defenses against predation. Overall, peccaries consumed and killed most non-defended and chemically-defended seeds but they could not destroy seeds with physical defenses. Agoutis killed non-defended and physically-defended seeds, but not seeds with chemical defenses. Using seeds of Mucuna holtonii, I investigated how chemical and structural defenses deter mammal and insect seed predation respectively. I also determined how endosperm removal by invertebrates affects seed germination and seedling biomass. Chemical defenses protected seeds from rodents, but not ungulates that digest seeds via pregastric fermentation. Physical defenses protected seeds from invertebrate seed predators, and removal of endosperm negatively affected both seed germination and seedling growth. To determine how scatter-hoarding by agoutis affects seed escape from seed predators, germination, and seedling growth, I created simulated agouti hoards. I also investigated how mammals affect young seedling survival. Hoarding enhanced seed survival, germination, and seedling growth for most species of seeds. Terrestrial mammals killed some seedlings via seed predation rather than by herbivory. Overall, large mammal activity in La Selva negatively affected seed and seedling survival and this likely influences many aspects of forest dynamics.


Seed Predation; Seed Dispersal; Seed Defenses; Scatter-hoarding; Peccary; Agouti