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Seed production patterns of surviving Sierra Nevada conifers show minimal change following drought

January 15, 2021

Reproduction is a key component of ecological resilience in forest ecosystems, so understanding how seed production is influenced by extreme drought is key to understanding forest recovery trajectories. If trees respond to mortality-inducing drought by preferentially allocating resources for reproduction, the recovery of the stand to pre-drought conditions may be enhanced accordingly. We used a 20-year annual seed capture data set to investigate whether seed production by three tree genera commonly found in the Sierra Nevada (Abies, Pinus, and Calocedrus) was correlated with variation in local weather, which included an extreme drought spanning multiple years. We tested whether average seed production differed during the drought years, and whether annual seed counts could be explained by three weather variables: spring temperature, annual precipitation, and summer climatic water deficit (CWD). We fit models testing for four separate effects: (1) a priming year model (weather 1 year prior to reproductive bud initiation), (2) a bud initiation model (weather in the year of reproductive bud initiation), (3) a pollination year model (weather in the year of pollination), and (4) maturation year model (weather in the year of seed maturation). For genera with two-year reproductive cycles, the pollination and maturation models were combined. We found support for the summer CWD Abies maturation year model, which suggested higher seed outputs immediately following dry summer conditions. The spring temperature pollination year model was selected for Pinus, which suggested that seed output is higher following warm spring weather during pollination. The annual precipitation priming year model was selected for Calocedrus, which showed a negative association between seed production and wetter conditions two years prior to seed production. More parent tree basal area resulted in higher seed output for all genera, though the confidence intervals overlapped 0 for Calocedrus. Permutation tests sugested there was no systematic difference in mean seed production during the drought after accounting for live tree basal area, regardless of genus. These results highlight the variability in response across genera, and suggest that the influence of seed production on forest recovery following drought-related mortality may depend on affected species and the timing of the mortality event within the masting cycle. A greater understanding of species-level masting to drought stress is needed to more precisely predict community-level recovery following drought.

    Publication Year 2021
    Title Seed production patterns of surviving Sierra Nevada conifers show minimal change following drought
    DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118598
    Authors Micah C. Wright, Phillip J. van Mantgem, Nathan L. Stephenson, Adrian Das, Jon Keeley
    Publication Type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Series Title Forest Ecology and Management
    Index ID 70217305
    Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
    USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center