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Effect of climate change on mast-seeding species: frequency of mass flowering and escape from specialist insect seed predators

Authors


Mark McKone, Department of Biology, Carleton College, Northfield, MN 55057, USA, tel +1/507-646-4393, fax +1/507-646-5757, e-mail mmckone@carleton.edu

Abstract

Global surface temperatures are expected to increase by several degrees in the next century, with potentially large but poorly understood impacts on ecological interactions. Here we propose potential effects of increased temperatures on ecologically dominant New Zealand grasses (Chionochloa spp.) that mass flower and mast seed. Twenty-two years’ data from five masting Chionochloa species in New Zealand showed that the cue for heavy flowering was unusually high temperature in the summer of the year before flowering. Attack by predispersal insect seed predators was much reduced in mast years, apparently because predator populations were satiated. Increased temperatures would greatly decrease interannual variation in Chionochloa flowering, allowing seed predator populations to increase and potentially to devastate the seed crop annually. Similar responses are likely in masting species worldwide. This previously unrecognized effect of global warming could have widespread impacts on temperate ecosystems.

Ancillary