Variable reproduction goes beyond masting

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Plants authors suggest that the first of the potential factors triggering a highly variable seed production could have been, before wind pollination and predators evolved, nutrient scarcity. Picture by Pixabay

Nutrient scarcity, and climate, are long existing evolutionary forces that have selected for multiple plant traits and have constrained the physiology of plants since their early development.

In a new study published in the journal Nature plants authors propose a mechanism by which nutrient scarcity may select for highly variable seed production, with weather patterns inducing masting synchrony across populations; they also discuss why wind-pollination and predator satiation cannot be the only selective pressures that select for highly variable reproduction.

Nutrient availability is a direct determinant of the mean fruit production in agriculture and in the wild. In this study, authors discuss why low nutrient availability may have been an important factor selecting for highly variable and synchronized seed production, the latter in combination with adaptation to variability in long-term climate patterns.

According to the authors, given the fact that temporally variable sexual reproduction in nature seems to be common, they conclude that factors others than wind pollination and predator satiation may have played a role in shaping this reproductive trait. “We suggest that one of these potential factors triggering a highly variable seed production, before wind pollination and predators evolved, may have been nutrient scarcity because of its role in determining the physiology of a broad range of organisms”, said Dr. Fernández-Martínez from University of Antwerp and collaborator of the Global Ecology Unit.

“This mechanism, which could have originated during the early evolution of plants, may explain why, under low nutrient availability, nutrient-conservative plants with highly variable reproduction may have been preferentially selected in comparison to nutrient-spending plants (with more constant reproduction).” said Prof. Josep Penuelas from CREAF-CSIC Barcelona.

Reference: Fernández-Martínez, M., Sardans, J., Sayol, F., LaMontagne, J.M., Bogdziewicz, M., Collalti, A., Hacket-Pain, A., Vacchiano, G., Espelta, J.M., Peñuelas, J., Janssens, I.A. 2020. Reply to: Nutrient scarcity cannot cause mast seeding. Nature Plants. DOI: 10.1038/s41477-020-0703-6.