Mast seeding patterns are asynchronous at a continental scale

Nature Plants
By: , and 

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Abstract

Resource pulses are short duration, high magnitude, rare events that drive the dynamics of both plant and animal populations and communities1. Mast seeding is perhaps the most common type of resource pulse occurring in terrestrial ecosystems2, is characterized by the synchronous and highly variable production of seed crops by a population of perennial plants3,4, and is widespread both taxonomically and geographically5. The rare production of abundant seed crops (‘mast events’) that are orders of magnitude higher than in low seed years lead to high reproductive success in seed consumers, and has cascading impacts in ecosystems2,6. While it is suggested that mast seeding is synchronized at continental scales7, studies are largely constrained to local areas covering 10-100’s of kilometers. Furthermore, summer temperature, which acts as a cue in mast seeding8, shows patterns at continental scales manifested as a juxtaposition of positive and negative anomalies that have been linked to irruptive movements of boreal seed eating birds9. Here we show a breakdown in synchrony of mast seeding patterns across space, leading to asynchrony at a continental scale. We found in an analysis of synchrony for a transcontinental North America tree species spanning distances >5,200 km that mast seeding patterns were significantly asynchronous at distances >2,000 km apart. Other studies have shown declines in synchrony across distance, but not asynchrony. Spatio-temporal variation in summer temperatures at the continental scale drives patterns of synchrony in mast seeding, and we anticipate this impacts the spatial dynamics of numerous seed-eating communities, from insects to small mammals to the large-scale migration patterns of boreal seed eating birds.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mast seeding patterns are asynchronous at a continental scale
Series title Nature Plants
DOI 10.1038/s41477-020-0647-x
Volume 6
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Nature
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 6 p.
First page 460
Last page 465
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