Masting in oaks: Disentangling the effect of flowering phenology, airborne pollen load and drought

Marcos Fernández-Martínez, Jordina Belmonte, Josep Maria Espelta

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Quercus species exhibit an extreme inter-annual variability in seed production often synchronized over large geographical areas (masting). Since this reproductive behavior is mostly observed in anemophilous plants, pollination efficiency is suggested as one hypothesis to explain it, although resource-based hypotheses are also suggested as alternatives. We analyzed the effect of flowering phenology, airborne pollen presence and meteorological conditions in the pattern of acorn production in mixed evergreen-deciduous oak forests (Quercus ilex and Quercus pubescens) in NE Spain for twelve years (1998-2009). In both oaks, higher temperatures advanced the onset of flowering and increased the amount of airborne pollen. Nevertheless, inter-annual differences in pollen production did not influence acorn crop size. Acorn production was enhanced by a delay in flowering onset in Q. ilex but not in Q. pubescens. This suggests that in perennial oaks a larger number of photosynthates produced before flowering could benefit reproduction while the lack of effects on deciduous oaks could be because these species flush new leaves and flowers at the same time. Notwithstanding this effect, spring water deficit was the most relevant factor in explaining inter-annual variability in acorn production in both species. Considering that future climate scenarios predict progressive warmer and dryer spring seasons in the Mediterranean Basin, this might result in earlier onsets of flowering and higher water deficits that would constrain acorn production. © 2012 Elsevier Masson SAS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-59
JournalActa Oecologica
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012


  • Acorns
  • Drought
  • Mediterranean
  • Pollination efficiency hypothesis
  • Quercus spp.
  • Resource-based hypotheses


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