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Reproduction in Wild Populations of the Threatened Tree Macadamia tetraphylla: Interpopulation Pollen Enriches Fecundity in a Declining Species


Corresponding author; current address: Department for Environment and Heritage SA, PO Box 39 Kingscote, S.A. 5223, Australia; e-mail:


Macadamia tetraphylla is a subtropical rain forest tree from fragmented lowlands in eastern Australia. Owing to habitat loss and fragmentation, this commercially important species is vulnerable to extinction. Breeding system and fecundity were investigated in nine populations incorporating three habitat types (moderately disturbed, highly disturbed, and intact) to determine if seed set, seed weight, and genetic diversity are compromised by disturbance. Breeding success was also tested using pollen donors from distant (30–100 km), local (2–3 km), neighbor (10–20 m), and near-neighbor (< 10 m) sources. Macadamia tetraphylla is weakly self-compatible but incapable of automatic self-pollination. Across populations, seed to flower ratios were always < 0.1 percent in open-pollinated trees and trees from moderately disturbed habitats had the highest fruit production. Outcross pollen produced more seed per raceme than open-pollinated or self-pollination treatments. Seed set and seed weights were positively influenced by pollen source with local pollen and distant pollen effecting more or heavier seeds. Germination rates and genetic diversity did not vary significantly in seedlings from different pollen sources. Results suggest a pollen source from at least a 2 km distance is an optimal outbreeding distance; however, many wild populations do not have conspecifics at optimal distances owing to habitat fragmentation. Highly disturbed populations are producing seed but the longevity of these sites is threatened by weed invasions. We conclude that small populations in degraded habitats that are at risk of being overlooked should not be ignored but should be a focus for restoration efforts as they are a valuable asset for the conservation of M. tetraphylla.