Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in 16982–16982, PNAS, October 23, 2007, vol. 104, no. 43. Copyright © 2007 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Used by Permission


A tradeoff between growth and reproduction, often inferred from an inverse correlation between these two variables, is a fundamental paradigm of life-history evolution. Oak species provide a unique test of this relationship because different species mature acorns either in the year of pollination or in the year after pollination. This difference allows for an interspecific comparison testing whether the apparent tradeoff is causal or the result of confounding factors influencing growth and reproduction independently. Based on 13 years of data on five California oak species, we found significant negative correlations between radial growth and seed production in the three species that produce acorns the same year in which pollination occurs, but not in two species that mature acorns the year after pollination. Rainfall, which correlates positively with radial growth and correlates negatively with acorn production (based on the year of pollination), appears to be driving this pattern. We conclude that the observed negative correlations are not causal, but rather a consequence of growth and reproduction being dependent, in opposite ways, on environmental conditions. Thus, contrary to the current consensus, growth and reproduction in these species are apparently largely independent of each other. In contrast, tradeoffs between current and future reproduction appear to be much more important in the life-history evolution of these long-lived plants. We also conclude that a negative correlation does not necessarily imply a causal mechanism and should not be used as the only evidence supporting a tradeoff.

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