Pulsed Resources and Consumer Communities in Terrestrial Systems

Mast-Consuming Animals

In deciduous and coniferous forests dominated by mast-producing trees, such as oaks, consumers are confronted with the sporadic production of abundant resources. Mast-consuming animals, such as the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus), rely on these pulsed resources.

Mast-Consuming Animals

"Mast production" or "masting" refers to the synchronous, episodic production of heavy seed crops by a population of plants. Heavy acorn production, which generally occurs once every 2-5 years in deciduous forests, is an example of masting. The evolutionary and physiological causes of masting have been intensively studied by ecologists, but the ecological consequences of this episodic pattern of resource superabundance are less well understood. Acorns are a highly nutritious food source for many species of mammals and birds, including white-footed mice. Mice store acorns for winter consumption, when food sources are generally scarce.

We have used both long-term monitoring and experimental enhancement of acorn abundance to determine the effects of acorns on mouse populations. Long-term monitoring demonstrates that summertime abundance of mice is strongly correlated with acorn production during the prior fall. Experimental acorn additions indicate more mice survive the winter when acorns are abundant and winter reproduction only occurs when acorns are present. Following acorn mast years, as a result of higher over-winter survival and winter breeding, population growth starts earlier in the season, leading to higher peak densities of mice in summer.

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