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Cork oak acorn production

January 20th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Cork oak (Quercus suber, from the western Mediterranean Basin[1]) is a weird oak. In most oak species, acorn maturation pattern is clear and fixed. In some species acorns mature in one year, in others acorn require two years for maturation. This trait is not fixed in Cork oak, some trees have annual acorns, some others have mainly biennial acorns, and some trees have both. This is why when we relate Cork acorn production with climatic variables the relation is very weak (explained variance < 8%), much weaker than for other oaks. However, after the trees being grouped according to their dominant acorn maturation pattern (annual or biennial), weather parameters account for 44% of the variability in acorn crops, with trees with annual acorns exhibiting mast fruiting in years with reduced spring frost and shorter summer droughts and trees with biennial acorns showing the opposite pattern [2]. Thus, conditions that negatively affect annual production could be beneficial for biennial production (and vice versa). The ability to modulate the acorn production pattern of a given year according to the environmental conditions could be regarded as an example of phenotypic plasticity for facing variable and uncertain climatic conditions, such as those in Mediterranean ecosystems. To what extent other oaks living under variable and stressful conditions behave similarly remains to be explored.

Figure: Recently debarked Cork oak and cork oak landscape in eastern Spain (foto: J. Cortina)

[1] Aronson, J., J. S. Pereira, and J. G. Pausas (eds). 2009. Cork Oak Woodlands on the Edge: Ecology, Adaptive Management, and Restoration. Island Press, Washington, DC. [web]

[2] Pons, J. and J. G. Pausas. 2012. The coexistence of acorns with different maturation patterns explains acorn production variability in Cork oak. Oecologia [doipdf]

Other post on Cork oak:

  • Conservation of cork oak ecosystems, Mar 14th, 2011 [link]
  • Bark thickness: a world record?, Jan 3rd, 2011 [link]
  • Wine supporting biodiversity, Jan 5th, 2010 [link]
  • Cork Oak Woodlands on the Edge, Oct 14th, 2009 [link]

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