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Keywords:

  • Acorn germination;
  • coevolution;
  • embryo depth;
  • embryo excision;
  • white oak.

Abstract

Several squirrel species excise the embryo of acorns of most white oak species to arrest germination for long-term storage. However, it is not clear how these acorns counter embryo excision and survive in the arms race of coevolution. In this study, we simulated the embryo excision behavior of squirrels by removing 4 mm of cotyledon from the apical end of white oak acorns differing in embryo depths to investigate the effects of embryo excision on acorn germination and seedling performance of white oak species. The embryo depth in the cotyledons was significantly different among white oak acorns, with Quercus mongolica containing the embryo most deeply in the acorns. We found that artificial embryo excision significantly decreased acorn germination rates of Quercus variabilis, Quercus acutissima, Quercus aliena, Quercus aliena var. acutiserrata, Quercus serrata. var. brevipetiolata but not Q. mongolica. Artificial embryo excision exerted significant negative impacts on seedling performance of all oak species except Quercus aliena. Our study demonstrates the role of embryo depth of acorns in countering embryo excision by squirrels and may explain the fact that squirrels do not perform embryo excision in acorns of Q. mongolica with deeper embryos. This apparent adaptation of acorns sheds light on the coevolutionary dynamics between oaks and their seed predators.