Friend or foe? Disparate plant-animal interactions of two congeneric rodents

Michal Samuni-Blank, Zeev Arad, M. Denise Dearing, Yoram Gerchman, William H. Karasov, Ido Izhaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food and water resources are limiting factors for animals in desert ecosystems. Fleshy fruits are a rare water source in deserts and when available they tend to attract a wide variety of organisms. Here we show that two congeneric rodent species, Acomys cahirinus and A. russatus, employ different fruit eating strategies that result in either dispersal or predation of the small seeds of the desert plant Ochradenus baccatus. The nocturnal A. cahirinus leaves intact seeds when consuming O. baccatus fruits and thus, acts mainly as a seed disperser; whereas the diurnal A. russatus consumes the whole fruit and digests the seeds and thus, acts mainly as a seed predator. Acomys russatus is subjected to the toxic products of the glucosinolates-myrosinase system found in O. baccatus fruits. Acomys cahirinus avoids the toxic compounds by consuming the pulp only, which contains glucosinolates but not the seeds that contain the enzyme that activates them. We suggest that the behavioral responses exhibited by A. russatus are the result of physiological adaptations to whole fruit consumption that are absent in A. cahirinus. Our results shed new light on the ecological divergence of the two congeneric species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1080
Number of pages12
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We are grateful to the members of the Oranim College animal house staff, particularly to N. Dainov, and N. Keshales for their help with the animal maintenance. We also thank the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, N. Taube, L. Samuni, A. Weinstein and especially M. Blank for their help during fieldwork. We are also grateful to JA. Endler, JE. Lambert, S. Lev-Yadun, and N. Kronfeld-Schor for their useful comments on previous versions of this paper. Support for this study was available through grants from the U.S.-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation Grant (#2006043), Israel Science Foundation (#189/08) and Middle East Regional Cooperation (#TA-MOU-08-M28-013).


  • Desert
  • Fruits
  • Glucosinolates
  • Rodents
  • Secondary compounds
  • Seed dispersal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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