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Masting, or mast seeding, is the synchronous seed production in certain years by a population of plants (Kelly 1994). The reproductive activity of plants in forests often fluctuates considerably between years, and flowering and fruit production are synchronised over long distances (Koenig and Knops 1998, 2000, Koenig et al. 1999).
Mast seeding has clear disadvantages such as higher density-dependent mortality of seedlings and lost opportunities for reproduction (Waller 1979). In addition, field observations suggest that seed production fluctuates more than the level that can be explained by climate-mediated variation in resource availability (Büsgen and Münch 1929). Two major questions arise from ecological studies on masting: Why is masting evolutionarily favoured regardless of apparent disadvantages? How do plants allocate resources to realise variable flowering efforts in a way synchronised over different individuals?
A family of resource budget models that have recently been studied provides answers to both questions: on the physiological mechanism by which plants may successfully generate such intermittent and synchronous reproduction (Isagi et al. 1997, Satake and Iwasa 2000, 2002a, b) and on the conditions for which masting is adaptive (Rees et al. 2002, Tachiki and Iwasa 2008). Resource budget models assume that plants accumulate resources every year and set flowers and fruits at a rate limited by pollen availability when the stored resources exceed a reproductive threshold level. The model predicts that individual plants flower intermittently when their resources are depleted after heavy flowering and fruiting, and that synchrony emerges in self-organised fashion by coupling through the need to receive outcross pollen from other plants (Satake and Iwasa 2000).
The variable and synchronous production of seeds by plant populations is called masting or mast seeding and is observed in diverse forests (Kelly 1994). Many flowers and fruits are produced one year (called a mast year) but little reproductive activity occurs during the several subsequent years until the next mast year (Herrera et al. 1998, Koening and Knops 1998, 2000, Koening et al. 1999). The variance in the reproductive activity of trees between years is large. It cannot be simply a result of environmental fluctuation in annual productivity (Tamura and Hiura 1998).
Many studies on masting have focused on adaptive significance (Kelly and Sork 2002). A popular hypothesis is the predator satiation theory – that is, seed predators starve during non-mast years, while they are unable to consume all the seeds during mast years (Janzen 1971, Silvertown 1980, Nilsson and Wästljung 1987, van Schaik et al. 1993). An alternative but not mutually exclusive hypothesis is pollination efficiency: in mast years, trees receive a lot of outcross pollen, which may improve fruiting success compared with reproduction in non-mast years (Nilsson and Wästljung 1987, Smith et al. 1990, van Schaik et al. 1993, Shibata et al. 1998, Kelly et al. 2001, Rees et al. 2002, Satake and Bjørnstad 2004).
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