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Mast fruiting and ENSO cycles – does the cue betray a cause?


  • G. Bruce Williamson,

  • Kalan Ickes


Evidence is mounting that flowering by the mast-fruiting Dipterocarpaceae in Southeast Asia is triggered by ENSO events such that seeds are dispersed at the end of ENSO droughts. These droughts induce substantial defoliation and mortality of canopy trees, producing a favorable environment for seedling recruitment in the forest understory. Therefore, seedling release following droughts may have selected for synchronized, supra-annual fruiting in these rain forests. Currently, mast fruiting in Southeast Asia is generally regarded as an evolutionary response to seed predation by nomadic vertebrates. Separating the two causes for mast fruiting, seedling release and predator satiation, may be difficult if they are coupled in nature by ENSO droughts. Nevertheless, if the cue for masting is environmental, then the post-ENSO seedling environment should be considered a potential cause for masting, and if it operates in conjunction with predator satiation, then it may have provided the initial stimulus for supra-annual synchrony in fruiting.