Effectiveness of predator satiation in masting oaks is negatively affected by conspecific density
Variation in seed availability shapes plant communities, and is strongly affected by seed predation. In some plant species, temporal variation in seed production is especially high and synchronized over large areas, which is called ‘mast seeding’. One selective advantage of this phenomenon is predator satiation which posits that masting helps plants escape seed predation through starvation of predators in lean years, and satiation in mast years. However, even though seed predation can be predicted to have a strong spatial component and depend on plant densities, whether the effectiveness of predator satiation in masting plants changes according to the Janzen-Connell effect has been barely investigated. We studied, over an 8-year period, the seed production, the spatiotemporal patters of weevil seed predation, and the abundance of adult weevils in a holm oak (Quercus ilex) population that consists of trees interspersed at patches covering a continuum of conspecific density. Isolated oaks effectively satiate predators, but this is trumped by increasing conspecific plant density. Lack of predator satiation in trees growing in dense patches was caused by re-distribution of insects among plants that likely attenuated them against food shortage in lean years, and changed the type of weevil functional response from type II in isolated trees to type III in trees growing in dense patches. This study provides the first empirical evaluation of the notion that masting and predator satiation should be more important in populations that start to dominate their communities, and is consistent with the observation that masting is less frequent and less intense in diverse forests.
Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00442-018-4069-7