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Plant Focus

Quercus peninsularis
A Red Oak (Section Lobatae) endemic to inland ranges of northern Baja California, Mexico

Evolutionary Drivers, Proximate Mechanisms, and Spatial Synchrony of Acorn Production in Oaks

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Walter D. Koenig, Mario B. Pesendorfer, and Johannes M. H. Knops

Published May 2017 in International Oaks No. 28: 29–40


Masting behavior – the highly variable and synchronized production of seeds by a population of plants – is common among oaks and has dramatic effects on resource dynamics and community structure. Based on the California Acorn Survey, our long-term study of acorn production by California oaks, we summarize the major hypotheses driving this phenomenon along with some of the questions remaining to be answered about masting at both the functional (ultimate) and mechanistic (proximate) levels of analysis. We also discuss one of the key issues regarding the definition of masting, namely what constitutes a population. This latter issue has recently been addressed by quantifying spatial synchrony, the spatial and temporal scale at which acorn production is synchronous. The drivers of spatial synchrony differ dramatically depending on the spatial scale of interest; at the relatively small spatial scale of individual trees a few km apart, the primary drivers for one species we have studied in detail, the valley oak (Quercus lobata Née) are local environmental factors such as soil nutrients and water availability, whereas at the large spatial scale of several hundred km the drivers of both differences in overall productivity and spatial synchrony are primarily more general environmental factors, specifically weather.


California Acorn Survey, economy of scale, masting, Moran effect, pollination efficiency, predator satiation, resource matching


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