Seed dispersal is a critical stage in the life cycle of most flowering plants. The process can have far-reaching effects on a species' biology, especially numerous aspects of its ecology and evolution. This is particularly the case for the oaks, in which the dispersal of the acorn is tied to numerous tree characteristics, as well as the behaviour and ecology of the animals that feed on and move these seeds to their final destination. Forest structure, composition, and genetics often follow directly from the dispersal process – while also influencing it in turn.
In Oak Seed Dispersal, Michael A. Steele draws on three decades of field research across the globe (e.g., the United States, Mexico, Central America, Europe, and China) to describe the interactions between oaks and their seed consumers. Rodents, birds, and insects, he writes, collectively influence the survival, movement, and germination of acorns, as well as the establishment of seedlings, often indicating a coevolutionary bond between oaks and their seed consumers. This bond can only be understood by unravelling the complex interactions that occur in the context of factors such as partial seed consumption due to acorn chemistry, scatterhoarding, predation of the seed consumers by other organisms, and the limiting effects of masting on insect, rodent, and jay damage.
Offering new insights on how animal-mediated dispersal drives ecological and evolutionary processes in forest ecosystems, Oak Seed Dispersal also includes an overview of threatened oak forests across the globe and explains how a lack of acorn dispersal contributes to many important conservation challenges. Highly illustrated, Oak Seed Dispersal includes photographs of key dispersal organisms and tactics, as well as a foreword by Stephen B. Vander Wall, a leading authority on food hoarding and animal-mediated seed dispersal, and beautiful artwork by Tad C. Theimer, also an accomplished ecologist.
Foreword, by Stephen B. Vander Wall
Chapter 1. Seed Dispersal
Chapter 2. The Distribution, Diversity, and Evolution of the Oaks
Chapter 3. The Oak Life Cycle
Chapter 4. Masting in Oaks
Chapter 5. The Oak Dispersal Process: Intrinsic Factors I
Chapter 6. The Oak Dispersal Process: Intrinsic Factors II
Chapter 7. The Oak Dispersal Process: Extrinsic Factors I
Chapter 8. The Oak Dispersal Process: Extrinsic Factors II
Chapter 9. The Rodents: Seed Predators or Seed Dispersers?
Chapter 10. The Jays: A Different Kind of Oak Dispersal Agent
Chapter 11. The Mind of the Scatterhoarder
Chapter 12. The Insects: Acorn Predators, Parasites, or Commensals?
Chapter 13. Anthropogenic Factors Influencing Oak Dispersal, Establishment, and Regeneration
Chapter 14. Threatened Oak Forests and Oak Forest Conservation
Chapter 15. Oak Dispersal and Oak-Animal Interactions: Looking Forward
Michael A. Steele is the H. Fenner Endowed Professor of Research Biology at Wilkes University. He is a coauthor of North American Tree Squirrels, Squirrels of the World, and Terrestrial Vertebrates of Pennsylvania: A Complete Guide to Species of Conservation Concern.
"The preface starts with a question that may occur to you on reading the title – 'why devote an entire book to the subject of oak dispersal?’ The answer is that there are many oak species around the world, producing large and nutritious acorns that are mostly animal dispersed by nut-caching mammals and birds. [...] The book is written in the first person, with fascinating descriptions of experiments done within the author's group and the underpinning reasons, interspersed by results from other researchers to give a cohesive flow of ideas. The book is useful to undergraduates through to seasoned researchers in the field. It will also prove fascinating reading for anyone who is interested in how science works."
– Peter Thomas, The Niche 53(4), winter 2022
"Engaging and insightful. I've studied ecology all my life, and still learned things from this book. Steele offers some perspectives that more ecologists need to bring into their consciousness."
– Dave Perry, Oregon State University
"This is the wisdom of a lifetime of study and research on oaks. The author shows us the world in an acorn and its dispersal. Life is a fascinating chain of continuously evolving, interlinked dependencies and relationships. I can think of no better book to show readers a glimpse of this."
– Peter Lurz, University of Edinburgh
"A must-read exploration of the amazingly diverse evolutionary adaptations that oaks have developed to deal with seed predators and trick them into dispersing seeds. Michael Steele's passion and years of first-hand experience with the topic resonate through the book. A great source for students and anyone interested in plant ecology."
– Michał Bogdziewicz, Adam Mickiewicz University
"This book remarkably and comprehensively illustrates the critical ecosystem process of animal-mediated oak dispersal, while at the same time posing new questions that will keep this area of research alive for many years to come."
– Andrew W. Bartlow, Los Alamos National Laboratory
"Oak Seed Dispersal illustrates the deep synthesis of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that drive seed dispersal and natural regeneration of oaks globally. The oak-animal models reviewed by Dr. Steele offer readers a broad look at some interesting theories and methodologies related to plant-animal interactions and behavioral ecology."
– Zhishu Xiao, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences