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Linkages between phenology, pollination, photosynthesis, and reproduction in deciduous forest understory plants

Kudo, Gaku, Ida, Takashi Y., Tani, Tomokazu
Ecology 2008 v.89 no.2 pp. 321-331
phenology, deciduous forests, understory, photosynthesis, pollination, canopy, forest trees, growing season, leaves, light, forest ecosystems, flowering, seed set, spring, fruits (plant anatomy), perennials, herbaceous plants, ground vegetation, summer, snowmelt, fruiting, Bombus, insect pollination, pollinating insects, seasonal variation, climate change, longitudinal studies, environmental monitoring, fruit set, carbon, Japan
Light availability in the understory of deciduous forests changes drastically within the growing season due to the foliage dynamics of canopy trees. Because flowering phenology, photosynthetic characteristics, and fruiting success respond to such strong seasonality in light availability, we hypothesized that understory plants in such ecosystems should describe distinct phenological groups or syndromes where “syndrome” is defined only as a set of characteristics that co‐occur. To identify these phenological syndromes, we studied the flowering phenology, fruit or seed set, and photosynthetic characteristics for 18 perennial understory herbaceous species that differed in reproductive strategy over eight years in a deciduous forest in northern Japan. Three phenological groups emerged from this study: (1) spring bloomers, flowering and fruiting before the completion of canopy closure; (2) early‐summer bloomers, flowering during the progress of canopy closure and fruiting after canopy closure; and (3) late‐summer bloomers, flowering and fruiting after canopy closure. The spring bloomers had high photosynthetic rates and high fruiting abilities, but the flowering time varied considerably among years due to yearly fluctuations of snowmelt date. Bumble bee‐pollinated species of spring bloomers showed variable seed‐set success, while fly‐pollinated species showed relatively stable seed sets over the years. The early‐summer bloomers showed low fruiting abilities irrespective of pollination success, reflecting severe resource limitation with decelerating light availability during fruit development. Although the late‐summer bloomers showed low photosynthetic rates under low‐light conditions, high fruit‐set success was attained if pollination was sufficient. These results support our hypothesis that phenological syndromes may be found in deciduous forest understory plants. Given that reproductive success of bee‐pollinated spring bloomers is highly susceptible to seasonal fluctuation, climate change may have its strongest impacts on this group.