Tachigali vasqueszii a successful monocarpic tree

Monocarpy, which involves the death of the parent plant immediately after it has fruited just once, is a successful reproductive strategy for short-lived plant species growing in ephemeral habitats. There are, however, only four genera and around 30 species of long-lived monocarpic trees, amongst which are those of the genus Tachigali. Some authors have taken the view that members of this genus show a masting behaviour strongly influenced by seed predation. The fact that Kitajima and Augspurger (1989) found that the majority of the seeds of T. versicolor, a masting Panamanian species, were consumed by insects and vertebrates, counters this view.

Tachigali vasqueszii is extremely successful in the rain forests of the northern Bolivian Amazon where it can be the tenth most common species despite dying immediately after the production of the first fruit crop. This canopy tree is also known from the evergreen and semi-deciduous forests of Ecuador and Peru. Detailed investigations by Poorter et al. (2005b), who also analysed essential features of a number of polycarpic species growing in the same area so that it could be compared with an idealized polycarpous tree, revealed that there were a number of reasons for its success.

Seed production is very high. However, while seedling mortality of T. vasqueszii is less than that of an average polycarp, that of its saplings is higher. The most important point is that T. vasqueszii grows very rapidly, increasing its stem diameter at a rate far higher than that of its polycarpic competitors. This is facilitated by the production of a large leafy crown and a low wood density. As a result of this strategy the tree reaches reproductive maturity in only 49 years, rather than the 79 years for an average polycarpic species. This short life-span also reduces the risk of dying before reproduction; 50% more seedlings survive to maturity compared with polycarpic species.

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