Masting, the intermittent production of large flower or seed crops by a population of perennial plants, can enhance the reproductive success of participating plants and drive fluctuations in seed-consumer populations and other ecosystem components over large geographic areas. The spatial and taxonomic extent over which masting is synchronized can determine its success in enhancing individual plant fitness as well as its ecosystem-level effects, and it can indicate the types of proximal cues that enable reproductive synchrony. Here, we demonstrate high intra- and intergeneric synchrony in mast seeding by 17 species of New Zealand plants from four families across >150000 km2. The synchronous species vary ecologically (pollination and dispersal modes) and are geographically widely separated, so intergeneric synchrony seems unlikely to be adaptive per se. Synchronous fruiting by these species was associated with anomalously high temperatures the summer before seedfall, a cue linked with the La Niña phase of El Niño–Southern Oscillation. The lone asynchronous species appears to respond to summer temperatures, but with a 2-yr rather than 1-yr time lag. The importance of temperature anomalies as cues for synchronized masting suggests that the timing and intensity of masting may be sensitive to global climate change, with widespread effects on taxonomically disparate plant and animal communities.
Schauber, Eric M., Kelly, Dave, Turchin, Peter, Simon, Chris, Lee, William G., Allen, Robert B., Payton, Ian J., Wilson, Peter R., Cowan, Phil E. and Brockie, R E. "Masting by Eighteen New Zealand Plant Species: The Role of Temperature as a Synchronizing Cue." (May 2002).