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Masting in rowan (Sorbus aucuparia): it pays off! – new publication

Those who have a garden know that fruit trees bear large crops only in certain years. This is often the result of masting behaviour, i.e. the highly variable (among years) and synchronized (within population) production of seeds, which is a widespread reproductive strategy in plants. Among other things, masting helps to reduce seed predation and increase pollination efficiency. However, it can involve costs, for example, in the form of negative density-dependent seedling survival caused by concentrating reproduction in intermittent events. The benefits of masting have received widespread attention, while the costs are still under-researched.

Recently, the New Phytologist published an article by Barbara Seget and colleagues summarizing the results of a long-term study on the reproductive strategy of rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). During the study, seed production, seed predation, and seedling recruitment and survival were observed. Scientists showed that the seed predation rate (inter-annual mean: 75%) was significantly reduced in mast years. At the same time, seedlings, appearing in high densities after years of high seed production, did not show increased mortality. The consequence of this was a positive correlation between fruit production and the percentage of seedlings surviving the next year. The results suggest that the costs of masting may be lower than assumed. Low masting costs, if common, may help explain why masting is such a widespread reproductive strategy throughout the plant kingdom.

The article is the first in a series of articles within the doctoral dissertation of Barbara Seget carried out under the supervision of dr. Magdalena Żywiec in the Functional and Evolutionary Ecology Group of the W. Szafer Institute of Botany PAS.

See the original article:

Seget B., Bogdziewicz M., Holeksa J., Ledwoń M., Milne-Rostkowska F., Piechnik Ł., Rzepczak A., Żywiec M. 2021. Costs and benefits of masting: economies of scale are not reduced by negative density-dependence in seedling survival in Sorbus aucuparia. New Phytologist in press. DOI

Fruits of rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).
Photo: pxhere.com.

Tagged rowan seedling.
Photo: M. Żywiec.

Fruiting rowan in a mast year.
Photo: M. Żywiec.