1. Masting, the production of large seed crops at intervals of several years, is a reproductive adaptation displayed by many tree species. The predator satiation hypothesis predicts that starvation of seed predators between mast years and satiation during mast years decreases seed predation and thus enhances tree regeneration.
2. Mast fruiting comes at demographic costs such as missed reproduction opportunities and increased density-dependence of recruits, but it remains unknown if predator satiation constitutes a sufficiently large benefit for masting to evolve as a viable life-history strategy. So far, no studies have quantified the net fitness consequences of masting.
3. Using a long-term demographic data set of the dipterocarp Shorea leprosula in a Malaysian forest, we constructed stochastic matrix population models and performed a demographic cost–benefit analysis.
4. For observed values of mast frequency and seed predation rates, we show that strict masting strongly increases fitness compared with fruiting annually. Model results also show that the demographic costs of mast fruiting are very low compared to the demographic losses due to seed predation in a scenario of annual fruiting. Finally, we find that mast fruiting would still be selected for even at low levels of seed predation and when including additional costs such as decreased adult growth rates, limiting crop size and density-dependent seedling survival.
5. Synthesis. Our results are consistent with the predictions of the predator satiation hypothesis: mast fruiting increases fitness for a range of seed predation levels. Under seed predation pressure annually fruiting species are at a strong disadvantage and as a result a mast fruiting strategy may swiftly confer a fitness advantage. Our study shows that demographic modelling allows the weighing of fitness benefits and costs of life-history phenomena such as strict masting.