Masting behaviour in a Mediterranean pine tree alters seed predator selection on reproductive output.

Research paper by Xoaquín X Moreira, Luis L Abdala-Roberts, Rafael R Zas, Esther E Merlo, María Josefa MJ Lombardero, Luis L Sampedro, Kailen A KA Mooney

Indexed on: 09 Aug '16Published on: 09 Aug '16Published in: Plant Biology


Context-dependency in species interactions is widespread and can produce concomitant patterns of context-dependent selection. Masting (synchronous production of large seed crops at irregular intervals by a plant population) has been shown to reduce seed predation through satiation (reduction in rates of seed predation with increasing seed cone output) and thus represents an important source of context-dependency in plant-animal interactions. However, the evolutionary consequences of such dynamics are not well understood. Here we describe masting behaviour in a Mediterranean model pine species (Pinus pinaster) and present a test of the effects of masting on selection by seed predators on reproductive output. We predicted that masting, by enhancing seed predator satiation, could in turn strengthen positive selection by seed predators for larger cone output. For this we collected six-year data (spanning one mast year and five non-mast years) on seed cone production and seed cone predation rates in a forest genetic trial composed by 116 P. pinaster genotypes. Following our prediction, we found stronger seed predator satiation during the masting year, which in turn led to stronger seed predator selection for increased cone production relative to non-masting years. These findings provide evidence that masting can alter the evolutionary outcome of plant-seed predator interactions. More broadly, our findings highlight that changes in consumer responses to resource abundance represent a widespread mechanism for predicting and understanding context dependency in plant-consumer evolutionary dynamics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.