Pollen and water limitation in Astragalus scaphoides, a plant that flowers in alternate years
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- Crone, E.E. & Lesica, P. Oecologia (2006) 150: 40. doi:10.1007/s00442-006-0506-0
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Mast seeding is common in plant populations, but its causes have rarely been tested experimentally. We tested mechanisms of alternate-year flowering and fruit set in an iteroparous, bee-pollinated, herbaceous plant, Astragalus scaphoides, in semi-arid sagebrush steppe. Patterns of reproduction from 1986 to 1999 indicated that spring precipitation was a cue for synchronous flowering, and that increased pollination in high-flowering years was a fitness advantage of synchrony. We tested these patterns by adding supplemental water and pollen to plants in high- and low-flowering sites and years. Supplemental water had no effect on flowering or seed set, so water is not a proximate cue for reproduction, though it could be important over longer (>3 year) time scales. Supplemental pollination increased fruit set in low- but not high-flowering years, indicating that synchronous flowering increases pollination success. Many shorter-term studies also report increased fruit set after pollen supplementation, but not after resource addition. This pattern may reflect the fact that plants can store and reallocate resources, but not pollen, across multiple years. For animal-pollinated herbs such as these, uniting theories about pollination ecology and mast seeding may promote an understanding of the mechanisms that determine patterns of reproduction over time.