Reproductive data Fagus sylvatica: Widespread masting breakdown in beech

  • Jessie J. Foest (Creator)
  • Michał Bogdziewicz (Creator)
  • Mario B. Pesendorfer (Creator)
  • Davide Ascoli (Creator)
  • Andrea Cutini (Creator)
  • Anita Nussbaumer (Creator)
  • Arne Verstraeten (Creator)
  • Burkhard Beudert (Creator)
  • Francesco Chianucci (Creator)
  • Francesco Mezzavilla (Creator)
  • Georg Gratzer (Creator)
  • Georges Kunstler (Creator)
  • Henning Meesenburg (Creator)
  • Markus Wagner (Creator)
  • Martina Mund (Creator)
  • Nathalie Cools (Creator)
  • Stanislav Vacek (Creator)
  • Wolfgang Schmidt (Creator)
  • Zdeněk Vacek (Creator)
  • Andrew Hacket-Pain (Creator)



Climate change effects on tree reproduction are poorly understood even though the resilience of populations relies on sufficient regeneration to balance increasing rates of mortality. Forest-forming tree species often mast, i.e. reproduce through synchronised year-to-year variation in seed production, which improves pollination and reduces seed predation. Recent observations in European beech show, however, that current climate change can dampen interannual variation and synchrony of seed production, and that this masting breakdown drastically reduces the viability of seed crops. Importantly, it is unclear under which conditions masting breakdown occurs, and how widespread breakdown is in this pan-European species. Here, we analysed 50 long-term datasets of population-level seed production, sampled across the distribution of European beech, and identified increasing summer temperatures as the general driver of masting breakdown. Specifically, increases in site-specific mean maximum temperatures during June and July were observed across most of the species range, while the interannual variability of population-level seed production (CVp) decreased. The declines in CVp were greatest where temperatures increased most rapidly. Additionally, the occurrence of crop failures and low-seed years has decreased during the last four decades, signalling altered starvation effects of masting on seed predators. Notably, CVp did not vary among sites according to site mean summer temperature. Instead, masting breakdown occurs in response to warming local temperatures (i.e. increasing relative temperatures), such that the risk is not restricted to populations growing in warm average conditions. As lowered CVp can reduce viable seed production despite the overall increase in seed count, our results warn that a covert mechanism is underway that may hinder the regeneration potential of European beech under climate change, with great potential to alter forest functioning and community dynamics.
Date made available23-Apr-2024
PublisherInstituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek

Thematic List 2020

  • Flora & fauna
  • Forest
  • Data & infrastructure

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