Behaviour 2019
Impacts of a seed dispersal mutualism on American chestnut restoration in Appalachian Ohio
James R Wright1, Stephen N Matthews1, Cornelia C Pinchot2, Christopher M Tonra1. 1The Ohio State Universty, Columbus, OH, United States; 2Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Delaware, OH, United States

Blue Jays provide essential long-distance dispersals for nut-bearing trees, such as oaks and historically American chestnut, by caching seeds in the autumn for future winter consumption. Unrecovered seeds can grow to become next year’s saplings, leading to a key seed dispersal mutualism that shapes the composition of forest ecosystems. In the Appalachian region, there is an ongoing effort to restore American chestnut to the landscape, following the loss of 4 billion trees in the early 20th century from chestnut blight. Our research aims to determine how Blue Jays will facilitate reestablishment of chestnut given the current oak-hickory dominant forest ecosystem. Using seed selection trials in southeastern Ohio over 3 autumn seasons, we quantified Blue Jay preference for chestnut seeds compared to dominant oak acorns. In addition, we located 61 cache sites by tracking chestnuts and acorns tagged with radio transmitters. By planting seeds at caches and random locations we determined the preferred habitat characteristics of caches and whether these sites are beneficial to chestnut seedling growth. Our research will inform chestnut restoration efforts in Ohio and the Allegheny plateau.