Aridity drives spatiotemporal patterns of masting across the latitudinal range of a dryland conifer

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Masting, or the synchronous and irregular production of seed crops, is controlled by environmental conditions and resource budgets. Increasing temperatures and shifting precipitation regimes may alter the frequency and magnitude of masting, especially in species that experience chronic resource stress. Yet the effects of a changing climate on seed production are unlikely to be uniform across populations, particularly those that span broad abiotic gradients. In this study, we assessed the spatiotemporal patterns of masting across the latitudinal distribution of a widely distributed dryland conifer species, piñon pine Pinus edulis . We quantified seed cone production from 2004 to 2017 using cone abscission scars in 187 trees from 28 sites along an 1100 km latitudinal gradient to investigate the spatiotemporal drivers of seed cone production and synchrony across populations. Populations from chronically hot and dry areas (greater climatic water deficits and less monsoonal precipitation) tended to have greater interannual variability in seed cone production and smaller crop sizes. Mast years generally followed years with low vapor pressure deficits and high precipitation during key periods of the reproductive process, but the strength of these relationships varied across the region. Populations that received greater monsoonal precipitation were less sensitive to late summer vapor pressure deficits during seed cone initiation yet more sensitive to spring vapor pressure deficits during pollination. Spatially correlated patterns of vapor pressure deficit better predicted synchrony in seed cone production than geographic distance, and these patterns were conserved at distances up to 500 km. These results demonstrate that aridity drives spatiotemporal variability in seed cone production. As a result, projected increases in aridity are likely to decrease the frequency and magnitude of masting in these dry forests and woodlands. Declines in seed production may compound climatic limitations to recruitment and impede tree regeneration, with cascading effects for numerous wildlife species.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Aridity drives spatiotemporal patterns of masting across the latitudinal range of a dryland conifer
Series title Ecography
DOI 10.1111/ecog.04856
Volume 43
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 12 p.
First page 569
Last page 580
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