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Masting promotes individual‐ and population‐level reproduction by increasing pollination efficiency

Moreira, Xoaquín, Abdala-Roberts, Luis, Linhart, Yan B., Mooney, Kailen A.
Ecology 2014 v.95 no.4 pp. 801-807
Pinus ponderosa, crops, data collection, females, males, pollination, reproductive success, trees
Masting is a reproductive strategy defined as the intermittent and synchronized production of large seed crops by a plant population. The pollination efficiency hypothesis proposes that masting increases pollination success in plants. Despite its general appeal, no previous studies have used long‐term data together with population‐ and individual‐level analyses to assess pollination efficiency between mast and non‐mast events. Here we rigorously tested the pollination efficiency hypothesis in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), a long‐lived monoecious, wind‐pollinated species, using a data set on 217 trees monitored annually for 20 years. Relative investment in male and female function by individual trees did not vary between mast and non‐mast years. At both the population and individual level, the rate of production of mature female cones relative to male strobili production was higher in mast than non‐mast years, consistent with the predicted benefit of reproductive synchrony on reproductive success. In addition, at the individual level we found a higher conversion of unfertilized female conelets into mature female cones during a mast year compared to a non‐mast year. Collectively, parallel results at the population and individual tree level provide robust evidence for the ecological, and potentially also evolutionary, benefits of masting through increased pollination efficiency.