Acorns of introduced Quercus rubra are neglected by European Jay but spread by mice
Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra L.; native in North America) is regarded as an invasive species in Central Europe, where it is the most common non-indigenous broad-leafed tree species in forestry. The species’ impact on native ecosystems and thus its future management are discussed controversially. Because dispersal is an important step in an invasion process, we studied whether European Jays (Garrulus glandarius L.) and mice, both main dispersers of native oaks in Europe, mediate the dispersal of Q. rubra seeds. Morphological characteristics of Q. rubra and native Q. robur L. acorns were quantified according to their implications for dispersal. We tested experimentally whether and to what extent mice and jays collect acorns of both oak species and if their behavior depends on choice options (dual choice vs. no-choice). Acorns were offered on feeding platforms, controlled by scouting cameras. Results showed that Q. rubra acorns have a thicker pericarp, a rounder shape and a higher dry weight compared to acorns of Q. robur. In the behavioral assays jays avoided acorns of Q. rubra if they were offered together with those of Q. robur (dual choice) as well as when Q. rubra acorns were offered alone (no-choice). This selection behavior could be caused by the differences in morphological traits observed between the acorns of the two species. In contrast to jays, mice took acorns of both oak species likewise indicating that seed morphology does not affect the attractiveness of Red Oak acorns for rodents. In conclusion, Quercus rubra is collected by animals in Central Europe to a considerable amount but dispersal should be restricted to moderate distances mediated by mice, leading mainly to stabilizing and increasing existing populations rather than founding of new ones.