Evolutionary selective forces, like predator satiation and pollination efficiency, are acknowledged to be major causes of masting (the variable, periodic and synchronic production of seeds in a population). However, a number of recent studies indicate that resources might also play an important role on shaping masting patterns. Dioecious masting species offer a privileged framework to study the role of resources on masting variation, since male and female plants often experience different reproductive costs and selective pressures. We followed masting and reproductive investment (RI) of the dioecious tree Juniperus thurifera in two populations along 10 years and studied the different response of males and females to experimentally increased water and nutrient availability in a third population.
Juniperus thurifera females invested in reproduction three times more resources than males. Such disparity generated different resource-use strategies in male and female trees. Tree-ring growth and water use efficiency (WUE) confirmed that sexes differed in their resource investment temporal pattern, with males using current resources for reproduction and females using resources accumulated during longer periods. Watered and fertilized female trees presented significantly higher flowering reproductive investments than males and experienced an extraordinary mast-flowering event. However, seeding RI and mast seeding were not affected by the treatment. This suggests that although resource availability affects the reproductive output of this species, there are other major forces regulating masting on J. thurifera.
During 10 years, J. thurifera male and female trees presented high and low flowering years more or less synchronously. However, not all mast flowering episodes resulted in mast seeding, leading to masting uncoupling between flowering and seeding. Since flowering costs represent only 1% of females’ total reproductive investments, masting uncoupling could be a beneficial bet-hedging strategy to maximize reproductive output in spite of unpredictable catastrophic events.