Highly variable and synchronised production of seeds by plant populations is called masting and is implicated in many important ecological processes, but how it arises remains poorly understood. The lack of experimental studies prevents underlying mechanisms from being explicitly tested, and thereby precludes meaningful predictions on the consequences of changing environments for plant reproductive patterns and global vegetation dynamics. Here we review the most relevant hypothetical drivers of masting and outline a research agenda that takes the biology of masting from a largely observational field of ecology to one rooted in mechanistic understanding. We divide the experimental framework into three main processes: resource dynamics, pollen limitation, and genetic and hormonal regulation, and illustrate how specific predictions about proximate mechanisms can be tested, highlighting the few successful experiments as examples. We envision that the experiments we outline will deliver new insights into how and why masting patterns might respond to a changing environment.