Family, visitors and the weather: patterns of flowering in tropical rain forests of northern Australia
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1 A data base on the flowering phenology of the Wet Tropics bioregion of far northern Queensland, Australia, has been constructed, based upon over 36 774 records from two Queensland-based herbaria. 2 Flowering patterns have been analysed against the predictions of three overlapping hypotheses based on climatic, biotic and phylogenetic explanations. No one hypothesis is supported to the exclusion of the others. 3 Patterns of flowering in the Wet Tropics show marked seasonal increases and decreases, except in the northern lowlands. In general this seasonality correlates with rainfall and temperature and is exacerbated by increasing latitude and altitude. 4 There is little or no statistical evidence for the over-dispersion of flowering times that would indicate a competition-avoidance mechanism: flowering within taxa or morphological groups tends to be clumped (and if not, is random). 5 That clumping of flowering within taxa does not coincide with a single season provides support for a mass action hypothesis based on the minimization of generalist predation and/or the avoidance of flower predation. 6 Timing of flowering did show some consistency among species within genera and within families, but there was little consistency at higher taxonomic levels. Clear separation of the biotic and phylogenetic hypotheses requires greater knowledge of pollination ecology and phylogeny of this large and diverse flora. 7 Understanding of flowering patterns and their underlying determining mechanisms is a key to assessing the ecosystem health of the forest. Our results highlight the importance of competitive interactions and of physical and evolutionary factors as determinants of flowering time, intensity and co-occurrence in tropical forests.
Journal of Ecology