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Modes of climate variability bridge proximate and evolutionary mechanisms of masting

October 18, 2021

There is evidence that variable and synchronous reproduction in seed plants (masting) correlates to modes of climate variability, e.g. El Niño Southern Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation. In this perspective, we explore the breadth of knowledge on how climate modes control reproduction in major masting species throughout Earth's biomes. We posit that intrinsic properties of climate modes (periodicity, persistence and trends) drive interannual and decadal variability of plant reproduction, as well as the spatial extent of its synchrony, aligning multiple proximate causes of masting through space and time. Moreover, climate modes force lagged but in-phase ecological processes that interact synergistically with multiple stages of plant reproductive cycles. This sets up adaptive benefits by increasing offspring fitness through either economies of scale or environmental prediction. Community-wide links between climate modes and masting across plant taxa suggest an evolutionary role of climate variability. We argue that climate modes may ‘bridge’ proximate and ultimate causes of masting selecting for variable and synchronous reproduction. The future of such interaction is uncertain: processes that improve reproductive fitness may remain coupled with climate modes even under changing climates, but chances are that abrupt global warming will affect Earth's climate modes so rapidly as to alter ecological and evolutionary links.