Time – size tradeoffs: a phylogenetic comparative study of flowering time, plant height and seed mass in a north-temperate flora


  • Kjell Bolmgren,

  • Peter D. Cowan

K. Bolmgren (bolmgren@berkeley.edu) and P. D. Cowan, Dept of Integrative Biology, 3060 Valley Life Sciences Building, Univ. of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3140, USA.


Parents face a timing problem as to when they should begin devoting resources from their own growth and survival to mating and offspring development. Seed mass and number, as well as maternal survival via plant size, are dependent on time for development. The time available in the favorable season will also affect the size of the developing juveniles and their survival through the unfavorable season. Flowering time may thus represent the outcome of such a time partitioning problem. We analyzed correlations between flowering onset time, seed mass, and plant height in a north-temperate flora, using both cross-species comparisons and phylogenetic comparative methods. Among perennial herbs, flowering onset time was negatively correlated with seed mass (i.e. plants with larger seeds started flowering earlier) while flowering onset time was positively correlated with plant height. Neither of these correlations was found among woody plants. Among annual plants, flowering onset time was positively correlated with seed mass. Cross-species and phylogenetically informed analyses largely agreed, except that flowering onset time was also positively correlated with plant height among annuals in the cross-species analysis. The different signs of the correlations between flowering onset time and seed mass (compar. gee regression coefficient=−7.8) and flowering onset time and plant height (compar. gee regression coefficient=+30.5) for perennial herbs, indicate that the duration of the growth season may underlie a tradeoff between maternal size and offspring size in perennial herbs, and we discuss how the partitioning of the season between parents and offspring may explain the association between early flowering and larger seed mass among these plants.