The ecology, evolution and management of mast reproduction in Australian plants

Boyd R. Wright, Donald Franklin, Roderick J. Fensham

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Australia is home to a diverse assemblage of plant species that display marked population-level variation in inter-annual flower or seed output (i.e. masting). These include a semelparous bamboo with an estimated inter-crop period of 40–50 years, numerous iteroparous masting gymnosperms, angiosperms that include landscape-dominant eucalypts, arid-zone wattles and spinifex (Triodia spp.) grasses, and a rich selection of species that display disturbance-related
forms of masting such as pyrogenic flowering and environmental prediction. Despite the
prevalence of masting in the Australian flora, there has been a paucity of research on these
plants. Nevertheless, from the literature available, it appears that, similar to other parts of the world, a continuum of inter-year reproductive variability exists, with a small number of species displaying extreme–high inter-annual seeding variability. From experimental studies and many anecdotal reports, most of the fitness benefits associated with masting evident overseas also operate in Australia (e.g. predator satiation, improved pollination efficiency, and environmental
prediction). Additionally, some Australian masting species offer periodically important food resources for Aboriginal nations in the form of seed or fruit. These include the bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii), members of the cycad genera Cycas and Macrozamia, spinifex (Triodia)
grasses, and mulga shrubs (Acacia aneura). Key future research areas for effective conservation
of Australian masting plants include (1) improved understanding of how management
interventions such as burning and silvicultural thinning influence regeneration dynamics and
higher-order trophic interactions, (2) further longitudinal monitoring across a range of habitats to identify other, as yet unknown, species that display reproductive intermittency,
and (3) elucidation of how changes to temperature, precipitation and fire regimes under climate change will affect reproduction and regeneration dynamics of the Australian masting flora.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-530
Number of pages22
JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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