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Robin Hood Rodents

August 21, 2012

Tropical rodents called agoutis steal cached seeds from each other, and the behavior may have helped a plant species avoid extinction.



Robin Hood rodents…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A medium-sized rodent called the agouti may have prevented a plant species from going extinct. Agoutis hide seeds for when food gets scarce. Ohio State University biologist Ben Hirsh and his colleagues at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama used radio transmitters to track seeds of the black palm tree after agoutis had cached them.

BEN HIRSH (Ohio State University):

Just a few days later they would be removed, but when we went to find the eaten seed, it wasn’t eaten, it was buried again. And then a day or two later it was moved again and buried again. And one seed was moved 36 times.


He says remote cameras revealed different agoutis moving the same seed.


So we had this massive theft going on.


The black palm’s original seed disperser is long extinct, so all this thievery may help some seeds get to places where they can grow. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

A Central American agouti in Panama. (Brian Gratwicke/Flickr)

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