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Small Mammals Perceive Most Fruits of Invasive Plants as Low-Quality Forage in a Pennsylvanian Forest and Meadow

Searrah R. Bierker1,*, Frances Brubaker1, Kendra E. Scheideman1, Mars Ciamacco1, Meghan E. Harris1, and Ryan M. Utz1

1Falk School of Sustainability, Chatham University, 6035 Ridge Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044. *Corresponding author.

Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 30, Issue 1 (2023): 24–40

Invasive plants often drastically alter food webs. Small-mammal assemblages may be greatly impacted by invasive plants, which often provide cover from predators. In addition, a less-studied potential impact is the possibility that small mammals use invasive plants as a food resource. We quantified small mammal giving-up densities (GUDs) by offering fruits of 5 common invasive shrubs and 1 native shrub in adjacent meadow and forest habitats in Pennsylvania. The study ran for two 48-hour sessions in November in 2 consecutive years with different combinations of shrub fruits available to small mammals within buckets that also contained Panicum miliaceum (Proso Millet), and sand. While some degree of differences in foraging activity could be accredited to annual variation, significant differences in GUDs among fruit species and between habitats were detected. The fruits of the invasive shrubs Berberis thunbergia (Japanese Barberry), Ligustrum vulgare (Eurasian Privet), and Rhodotypos scandens (Jetbead) did not appear to be significantly foraged on by small mammals in either habitat. However, the woody liana Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet) was readily consumed in both the forest and meadow. Fruits of the invasive shrub Eleagnus umbellata (Autumn Olive) was favored but only in meadow habitat, while fruits of the native shrub Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) were moderately foraged in the forest. Through this experiment, we were able to conclude that most woody plants included in this study offer fruits with limited perceived benefit. However, Oriental Bittersweet and Autumn Olive may represent important exceptions that could be influencing small-mammal foraging patterns in northeastern forest and meadow ecosystems.

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