Planting the Seeds of Chaos

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Science  12 Jul 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5579, pp. 159
DOI: 10.1126/science.297.5579.159a

Most perennial plant species reproduce every year, but some produce flower and fruit only at longer intervals, sometimes many years apart. This phenomenon, known as masting, involves the synchronous flowering of all the individuals in a population, and has long remained an evolutionary and mechanistic puzzle. What do masting plants gain from such behavior, and how do they achieve the synchrony necessary for masting to occur at all?

Rees et al. have studied the masting grass species Chionochloa pallens in New Zealand, using data from individual plants gathered over a decade. Models based on the variation in the plants' resources or on environmental cues failed to reproduce the observed masting pattern. However, models incorporating both resource and climatic cues produced patterns in agreement with the data at the individual and population levels. The resource-based component of the model produced chaotic dynamics in flowering, which were synchronized across individuals by the environmental cue. The resulting pattern is selectively advantageous in reducing the proportion of seeds lost to predators. — AMS

Am. Nat.160, 44 (2002).

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