European Journal of Forest Research

, Volume 135, Issue 4, pp 743–754 | Cite as

Current and future conifer seed production in the Alps: testing weather factors as cues behind masting

  • F. BisiEmail author
  • J. von Hardenberg
  • S. Bertolino
  • L. A. Wauters
  • S. Imperio
  • D. G. Preatoni
  • A. Provenzale
  • M. V. Mazzamuto
  • A. Martinoli
Original Paper


Temporal patterns of masting in conifer species are intriguing phenomena that have cascading effects on different trophic levels in ecosystems. Many studies suggest that meteorological cues (changes in temperature and precipitation) affect variation in seed-crop size over years. We monitored cone crops of six conifer species in the Italian Alps (1999–2013) and analysed which seasonal weather factors affected annual variation in cone production at forest community level. Larch, Norway spruce and silver fir showed masting while temporal patterns in Pinus sp. were less pronounced. We found limited support for the temperature difference model proposed by Kelly et al. Both seasonal (mainly spring and summer) temperatures and precipitations of 1 and 2 years prior to seed maturation affected cone-crop size, with no significant effect of previous year’s cone crop. Next, we estimated future forest cone production until 2100, applying climate projection (using RCP 8.5 scenario) to the weather model that best predicted variation in measured cone crops. We found no evidence of long-term changes in average cone production over the twenty-first century, despite increase in average temperature and decrease in precipitation. The amplitude of predicted annual fluctuations in cone production varies over time, depending on study area. The opposite signs of temperature effects 1 and 2 years prior to seed set show that temperature differences are indeed a relevant cue. Hence, predicted patterns of masting followed by 1 or more years of poor-medium cone production suggest a high degree of resilience of alpine conifer forests under global warming scenario.


Global warming Alps Conifer Forest Cones Masting 



The project was supported by the Italian Minister of Education, University and Research (PRIN 2010–2011, 20108 TZKHC to Insubria University, Varese). Field work conducted in Valle d’Aosta was supported by a grant from Gran Paradiso National Park and another from NextData project. We thank all other participants of PRIN project who contributed in discussion and shared unpublished results giving important indication to improve first draft of this manuscript: Sassari University, Department of Science for Nature and Environmental Resources; Pavia University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Palermo University, Department of Biological, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technologies. We acknowledge ICTP for the production of the climate model simulations used in this work. We thank Marco Turco (ISAC-CNR) for providing the postprocessed and bias-corrected climate simulations. We acknowledge ARPA Lombardia and Centro Funzionale Regionale Regione Autonoma Valle d’Aosta for providing observed climate data. This is paper no. 27 of ASPER project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10342_2016_969_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (64 kb)
Online Resource 1 Autocorrelation function estimates, in bold significant correlation (PDF 64 kb)
10342_2016_969_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (84 kb)
Online Resource 2 Seed production for each area and species (PDF 84 kb)
10342_2016_969_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (103 kb)
Online Resource 3 Cones prediction (PDF 102 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Bisi
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. von Hardenberg
    • 2
  • S. Bertolino
    • 3
  • L. A. Wauters
    • 1
    • 4
  • S. Imperio
    • 2
  • D. G. Preatoni
    • 1
  • A. Provenzale
    • 5
  • M. V. Mazzamuto
    • 1
  • A. Martinoli
    • 1
  1. 1.Environment Analysis and Management Unit, Guido Tosi Research Group, Department of Theoretical and Applied SciencesInsubria UniversityVareseItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, CNRTurinItaly
  3. 3.Department of Agriculture, Forest and Food SciencesUniversity of TurinGrugliasco, TurinItaly
  4. 4.Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  5. 5.Institute of Geosciences and Earth Resources, CNRPisaItaly

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