Why Trees Skip a Year

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Science  22 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6041, pp. 386
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6041.386-d

The lowland tropical forests of Southeast Asia are dominated in many regions by trees of the family Dipterocarpaceae. Dipterocarps are mast-seeders—that is, they reproduce synchronously at intervals of several years. Masting, in these tree species and others, has been shown to be an effective strategy for satiating predators and thus ensuring the survival of a proportion of seedlings from each reproductive event. Whether this strategy has fitness advantages for the plants over annual reproduction, however, has not been established.

Visser et al. used a 25-year data set for the forest dipterocarp Shorea leprosula in a Malaysian forest, coupled with demographic modeling and simulations spanning the entire life cycle, to quantify the balance of demographic costs and benefits of mast fruiting. They find that there are clear fitness benefits to masting, as compared to annual reproduction, when seed predation pressure is strong. Nevertheless, masting is less likely to evolve if the majority of the forest community reproduces annually or if seeds are specialized for dispersal by animals.

J. Ecol. 99, 1033 (2011).

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