Date of this Version
Ecology, 96(1), 2015, pp. 184–192
Annually variable and synchronous seed production, or masting behavior, is a widespread phenomenon with dramatic effects on wildlife populations and their associated communities. Proximally, masting is often correlated with environmental factors and most likely involves differential pollination success and resource allocation, but little is known about how these factors interact or how they influence seed production. We studied masting in the valley oak (Quercus lobata Nee), a California endemic tree, and report evidence that phenological synchrony in flowering driven by microclimatic variability determines the size of the acorn crop through its effects on pollen availability and fertilization success. These findings integrate two of the major factors believed to influence seed production in wind-pollinated species—environmental conditions and pollen limitation—by means of a coherent mechanistic hypothesis for how highly variable and synchronized annual seed production is accomplished. We illustrate how, by means of a simulation based on the mechanism proposed here, climate change may influence masting patterns through its effects on environmental variability.