Environmental correlates of acorn production by four species of Minnesota oaks
1. Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA
2. School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, USA
We measured acorn production by four species of oaks in central Minnesota over a 17-year period with the goal of understanding the proximate drivers of masting behavior. All four species exhibited significant annual variation and within-population synchrony of acorn production, although masting behavior was more pronounced in the two species that require 1 year to develop acorns (‘1-year’ species) than the two species that require 2 years (‘2-year’ species). There was also strong synchrony between species that require the same number of years to mature acorns, but not between species requiring different numbers of years. Acorn production by three of the four species correlated with spring or summer conditions, while no significant environmental correlate of acorn production was detected for the fourth species. Acorn production by none of the four species correlated significantly with variables calculated from the differences in weather conditions from 1 year to the next. These results, combined with prior studies of oaks, suggest that environmental conditions during key periods of acorn development frequently correlate with acorn production, as expected if such factors bear a direct mechanistic relationship to seed production. On the other hand, the environmental factors involve vary greatly both among species and even among populations of the same species, a result consistent with the hypothesis that environmental correlates are simply cues used by plants to synchronize reproductive investment. In either case, our results do not support the recent proposition that variables based on differences in environmental conditions from 1 year to the next serve as a general cue for masting behavior.