Proximate causes and possible adaptive functions of mast seeding and barren flower shows in spinifex grasses (Triodia spp.) in arid regions of Australia

Proximate causes and possible adaptive functions of mast seeding and barren flower shows in spinifex grasses (Triodia spp.) in arid regions of Australia Journal Article

The Rangeland Journal

  • Author(s): Wright, Boyd R., Zuur, Alain F., Chan, Gary C. K.
  • Published: 2014
  • Volume: 36

Abstract: Mast seeding, the intermittent production of large synchronised seed crops among plant populations, is a phenomenon that occurs at exceptionally long intervals in spinifex grasses (Triodia spp.) from arid regions of Australia. This is despite the reliance of these fire-sensitive plants on seeds for post-fire regeneration, and that spinifex grasslands rate among Australia’s most flammable ecosystems. The proximate causes and possible adaptive functions of masting in seven species of spinifex from arid regions within the 350-mm rainfall isohyet were investigated. Specifically, the seed set percentages of 79 specimens collected between 1947 and 2012 were related to the following environmental covariates: antecedent rainfall over 6, 12 and 36 months, relative humidity, and the number of days above 40°C and below 0°C during anthesis. Given the potential importance of seeding events for post-fire regeneration, it was also investigated whether masting in Triodia could represent a fire-related form of environmentally predictive masting, by testing whether high-yield years corresponded to years of increased fire occurrence. Examination of the dataset showed that 43% of specimens contained completely aborted inflorescences (0% seed fill), while seed set ranged from 2 to 69% in the remaining specimens. High levels of insect activity were also found, with 42% of specimens showing evidence of insect occupation. Statistical analyses showed that the main environmental driver of seed set was high precipitation over the previous 12 months, and that high-yield years were strongly related to years of increased fire likelihood. The number of days over 40°C was a weakly significant driver of yield, while the remaining covariates were not significant. It is hypothesised that intermittent reproduction by Triodia is a fire-related form of environmentally predictive masting, which maximises chances of post-fire regeneration by satiating seed predators during flammable periods (i.e. after heavy rain years). Furthermore, it is suggested that non-viable flower crops after initial low rainfalls may have an adaptive function, by diluting pre-dispersal seed predator densities with ‘decoy’ ovules that do not mature and lead to the starvation of developing larvae.

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Suggested Citation
Wright, Boyd R., Zuur, Alain F., Chan, Gary C. K., 2014, Proximate causes and possible adaptive functions of mast seeding and barren flower shows in spinifex grasses (Triodia spp.) in arid regions of Australia, Volume:36, Journal Article, viewed 25 August 2019, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=2670.

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