A new paper involving the Tanentzap group challenges the claim that mast seeding, which causes highly variable and synchronous seed production, is insensitive to future climate change. The basis for the controversy is a recent paper that suggested plants are triggered to flower by the difference in air temperature between their two most recent growing seasons. Using 40-years of data on mast seeding by four species of alpine Chionochloa grasses, Tanentzap and co-authors developed and validated a new mathematical model that predicts how plants allocate resources between storage and flowering. The model, in which both resource acquisition and flowering are climate-dependent, explained observed flowering patterns with almost perfect accuracy.
The authors go on to show that empirically-based statistical models that have been used to approximate the mechanisms underlying mast seeding have misinterpreted the potential outcomes of future climate change. This is because empirical predictors of flowering, such as the difference in air temperature between years, implicitly capture the interaction between resource state and environmental drivers that determine the mobilisation of resources into reproduction without the need to invoke other mechanisms.
The findings of this study should have far-reaching consequences for the management of animal pests, such as rodents, which irrupt in number following mast seeding events.
Read online: Monks A, Monk JM, Tanentzap AJ (2016) Resource limitation underlying multiple masting models makes mast seeding sensitive to future climate change. New Phytologist. 210:419–430.