Koenig WD, Knops JMH, Carmen WJ, Pesendorfer MB (2017) Testing the terminal investment hypothesis in California oaks. The American Naturalist 189(5):564-569.
The terminal investment hypothesis—which proposes that reproductive investment should increase with age-related declines in reproductive value—has garnered support in a range of animal species but has not been previously examined in long-lived plants, such as trees. We tested this hypothesis by comparing relative acorn production and radial growth among 1,000+ mature individuals of eight species of California oaks (genus Quercus) followed for up to 37 years, during which time 70 trees died apparently natural deaths. We found no significant differences in the radial growth, acorn production, or index of reproductive effort, taking into consideration both growth and reproduction among dying trees relative to either conspecific trees at the same site that did not die or growth and reproduction from earlier years for the focal trees that did eventually die. Furthermore, we found no consistent trade-off between growth and reproduction among trees that died, nor did dying trees significantly alter their relative investment in reproduction even as they underwent physical decline. Trees approaching the end of their lives are often in poor physical condition but do not appear to differentially invest more of their diminished resources in reproduction compared with healthy trees.