Word of the week: Mast year

Polly Stevens delves into why nature-lovers may have noticed an unusual number of acorns this year

Polly Stevens
2nd November 2020

Those who enjoy venturing into nature's many corners around Newcastle may have noticed something unusual over the recent autumnal months; a greater than usual flurry of acorns littering the forest floor. This has prompted naturalists to conclude that 2020 is likely a mast year for British woodland species; a year in which trees such as oak, beech, and maple produce bumper crops.

While the causes of mast years are rather ambiguous, a commonly accepted idea is that of predator satiation; in non-mast years, low crop yields keep predator populations low, meaning when trees mast, fewer seeds are consumed and more have a chance at successful germination during spring.

As to how woodland species coordinate their masting across the UK, there are several theories. Synchronisation is thought to increase the odds of viable offspring production through maximising reproductive potential in a process known as pollen coupling; trees that are out of sync, meanwhile, are removed from the gene pool. Coordination is also likely linked to weather at the time of flowering; oak, beach, and maple trees rely on windblown pollen for fertilisation, meaning warm and windy spring weather conditions may encourage bumper crop in autumn.

But while shrouded in mystery, mast years are undoubtably great news for birds and mammals dependent on the crop produced. Us wildlife lovers, meanwhile, can enjoy a colourful, prosperous autumn in the many woodlands around Newcastle.

Featured image: Alfred Schrock on Unsplash

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