An intercontinental comparison of the dynamic behavior of mast seeding communities

Abstract

Cases of mast seeding, involving highly variable seed production synchronized over large geographic areas, provide dramatic examples of resource pulses that have been documented for most major world land masses. Here, we compare the dynamic behavior of two of these systems, with the goal of understanding differences in the long-term consequences of masting events to their respective communities. Responses to mast events in deciduous oak forests in eastern North America are characteristically complex and of low resilience. That is, each event produces long-lasting cascading effects in the community, ultimately influencing not only seed consumers such as rodents and deer, but also the parasites and prey of those consumers, diseases transmitted by those parasites, and outbreaks of insect herbivores. In contrast, despite more extreme resource pulsing in New Zealand Nothofagus forests, responses to mast events there are less complex and more resilient, i.e., producing only short-term (<2 years), smoothly damped, numerical responses by a few species, except after (rare) ‘double-mast’ events in consecutive years. A detailed examination of the two systems suggests some tentative explanations for the strongly contrasting dynamics of these systems. Firstly, the higher number of species involved in North America seems to reduce resilience by increasing food chain length, lags, and alternative prey, all of which increase the dynamic complexity compared with that in New Zealand. Secondly, lack of a shared evolutionary history among species did not necessarily reduce resilience. Some exotic species showed well-damped fluctuations (e.g., stoats (Mustela erminea L.) in New Zealand), while other exotics showed complex dynamics (e.g., gypsy moths (Lymantria dispar L.) in North America). Thirdly, recent extinctions of species such as the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius L.), once the dominant acorn predator in eastern North American forests, have likely produced qualitative changes in system dynamics in both communities. Fourthly, the North American community has more lags and hysteresis, which probably contribute to the greater dynamic complexity in eastern North America than in New Zealand Nothofagus forests. However, positive feedback loops present in North America seem to have little influence on system dynamics. Because the massive perturbations induced by masting events are major recurring challenges to an ecosystem, disentangling the causes of different system responses is likely to lead us to a better understanding of ecosystem function, resilience and stability.

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Acknowledgments

We thank C.M. (Kim) King, Wendy Ruscoe, Ken Schmidt, and Louie Yang for their helpful comments. Support came from the N Z Foundation for Research, Science and Technology’s OBI ‘Ecosystems Resilience’ and the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund grant UOC0403 (DK), and from the National Science Foundation and the Integrated Hardwoods Range Management Program (WDK).

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Correspondence to Dave Kelly.

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This manuscript was submitted for the special feature based on the symposium in Jozankei, Hokkaido, held on 21 October 2007.

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Kelly, D., Koenig, W.D. & Liebhold, A.M. An intercontinental comparison of the dynamic behavior of mast seeding communities. Popul Ecol 50, 329–342 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10144-008-0114-4

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Keywords

  • Ecosystem stability
  • Nothofagus
  • Predator satiation
  • Pulsed resources
  • Quercus
  • Seed predation