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Keywords:

  • dry season;
  • ectomycorrhizas;
  • mast fruiting;
  • phenology;
  • rain forest;
  • trees;
  • tropical Africa;
  • Microberlinia bisulcata

Summary

  • • 
    Mast fruiting is a distinctive reproductive trait in trees. This rain forest study, at a nutrient-poor site with a seasonal climate in tropical Africa, provides new insights into the causes of this mode of phenological patterning.
  • • 
    At Korup, Cameroon, 150 trees of the large, ectomycorrhizal caesalp, Microberlinia bisulcata, were recorded almost monthly for leafing, flowering and fruiting during 1995–2000. The series was extended to 1988–2004 with less detailed data. Individual transitions in phenology were analysed.
  • • 
    Masting occurred when the dry season before fruiting was drier, and the one before that was wetter, than average. Intervals between events were usually 2 or 3 yr. Masting was associated with early leaf exchange, followed by mass flowering, and was highly synchronous in the population. Trees at higher elevation showed more fruiting. Output declined between 1995 and 2000.
  • • 
    Mast fruiting in M. bisulcata appears to be driven by climate variation and is regulated by internal tree processes. The resource-limitation hypothesis was supported. An ‘alternative bearing’ system seems to underlie masting. That ectomycorrhizal habit facilitates masting in trees is strongly implied.