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Climate Change Strengthens Selection for Mast Seeding in European Beech

Bogdziewicz, M, Kelly, D, Tanentzap, AJ, Thomas, PA, Lageard, JGA and Hacket-Pain, A (2020) Climate Change Strengthens Selection for Mast Seeding in European Beech. Current Biology, 30 (17). pp. 3477-3483. ISSN 0960-9822

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Abstract

Climate change is altering patterns of seed production worldwide [1–4], but the potential for evolutionary responses to these changes is poorly understood. Masting (synchronous, annually variable seed production by plant populations) is selectively beneficial through economies of scale that decrease the cost of reproduction per surviving offspring [5–7]. Masting is particularly widespread in temperate trees [8, 9] impacting food webs, macronutrient cycling, carbon storage, and human disease risk [10–12], so understanding its response to climate change is important. Here, we analyze inter-individual variability in plant reproductive patterns and two economies of scale—predator satiation and pollination efficiency—and document how natural selection acting upon them favors masting. Four decades of observations for European beech (Fagus sylvatica) show that predator satiation and pollination efficiency select for individuals with higher inter-annual variability of reproduction and higher reproductive synchrony between individuals. This result confirms the long-standing theory that masting, a population-level phenomenon, is generated by selection on individuals. Furthermore, recent climate-driven increases in mean seed production have increased selection pressure from seed predators but not from pollination efficiency. Natural selection is thus acting to restore the fitness benefits of masting, which have previously decreased under a warming climate [13]. However, selection will likely take far longer (centuries) than climate warming (decades), so in the short-term, tree reproduction will be reduced because masting has become less effective at satiating seed predators. Over the long-term, evolutionary responses to climate change could potentially increase inter-annual variability of seed production of masting species.

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