Acorn crop size and pre-dispersal predation determine inter-specific differences in the recruitment of co-occurring oaks.Oecologia. 2009 Sep; 161(3):559-68.O
The contribution of pre-dispersal seed predation to inter-specific differences in recruitment remains elusive. In species with no resistance mechanisms, differences in pre-dispersal predation may arise from differences in seed abundance (plant satiation) or in the ability of seeds to survive insect infestation (seed satiation). This study aimed to analyse the impact of pre-dispersal acorn predation by weevils in two co-occurring Mediterranean oaks (Quercus ilex and Quercus humilis) and to compare its relevance with other processes involved in recruitment. We monitored the patterns of acorn production and acorn infestation by weevils and we conducted experimental tests of acorn germination after weevil infestation, post-dispersal predation and seedling establishment in mixed forests. Monitoring and experimental data were integrated in a simulation model to test for the effects of pre-dispersal predation in recruitment. In both oaks pre-dispersal acorn infestation decreased with increasing acorn crop size (plant satiation). This benefited Q. ilex which exhibited stronger masting behaviour than Q. humilis, with almost a single and outstanding reproductive event in 6 years. Acorn infestation was more than twice as high in Q. humilis (47.0%) as in Q. ilex (20.0%) irrespective of the number of seeds produced by each species. Although germination of infested acorns (seed satiation) was higher in Q. humilis (60%) than in Q. ilex (21%), this could barely mitigate the higher infestation rate in the former species, to reduce seed loss. Conversely to pre-dispersal predation, no inter-specific differences were observed either in post-dispersal predation or seedling establishment. Our results indicate that pre-dispersal predation may contribute to differences in seed supply, and ultimately in recruitment, between co-existing oaks. Moreover, they suggest that seed satiation can barely offset differences in seed infestation rates. This serves as a warning against overemphasising seed satiation as a mechanism to overcome seed predation by insects.