Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in Am. Nat. 2000. Vol. 155, pp. 59–69. Copyright © 2000 by The University of Chicago


We tested whether annual seed production (masting or mast fruiting) in Northern Hemisphere trees is an evolved strategy or a consequence of resource tracking by comparing masting patterns with those of annual rainfall and mean summer temperatures, two environmental variables likely to correlate with available resources. There were generally significant negative autocorrelations between the seed crop in year x and year x+1 (year x+2 in species of Quercus requiring 2 yr to mature acorns), as expected if resources are depleted in mast years in part by switching resources from growth to reproduction. Spatial autocorrelation in annual seed production generally declined with distance but was statistically significant over large geographic areas. Variability in annual seed production was relatively high and inversely correlated with latitude and generally not bimodally distributed. Patterns of spatial autocorrelation in annual rainfall and summer temperatures are generally similar to those exhibited by annual seed production, and relative variability in annual rainfall is also inversely correlated with latitude. However, these environmental variables exhibit distinctly different patterns of temporal autocorrelation, are much less variable, and are more normally distributed than annual seed production. Combined with the inverse relationship between growth and reproduction previously documented, these results support the hypothesis that variability in annual seed production is an evolved strategy and that annual seed production is more or less normally distributed rather than an all-or-none phenomenon.

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