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Intrinsic biotic factors and micro-site conditions drive seedling survival in a species with masting reproduction

Cite this dataset

Martini, Francesco; Zou, Chaobo; Goodale, Uromi (2020). Intrinsic biotic factors and micro-site conditions drive seedling survival in a species with masting reproduction [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Seedling recruitment following a masting event, where more fruits are produced in synchrony and intermittently compared to other species, plays a crucial role in determining species diversity and community structure. Such seedling recruitment can be super-abundant, but followed by high mortality shortly thereafter. Differences in biotic factors such seedling characteristics, competition and herbivory, and micro-site specific abiotic factors could determine seedling fate in space and time.

2. In a subtropical forest in south China, for two years using censuses conducted every one to two months, we monitored 40 seed traps and 120, 1 m2 quadrats in five 1-hectare plots located from 1400 m to 1850 m asl for the masting maple species, Acer campbellii subsp. sinense (Pax) P.C.DeJong . We measured biotic – conspecific and heterospecific seedling density, species richness, herbivory, seedling height and leaf number – and abiotic – canopy openness, slope, and aspect – factors to assess drivers of seedling survival and evaluated A. campbellii subsp. sinense presence in the soil seed bank (SSB).

3. The masting seed dispersal peak and seedling emergence peak occurred between October 2017 and January 2018, and May 2018, respectively. Of 688 selected seedlings, mortality was 92.7% within one year. No seeds were observed in the SSB. Seedling height and leaf number positively affected seedling survival, while seed placement as measured by aspect also showed effects on survival. Conspecific and heterospecific density and herbivory did not show any clear effect. Higher probabilities of seedling survival were found in areas with larger canopy openness (≥ 12% canopy gap size) and in steeper micro-sites (≥ 35°).

4. Synthesis. Masting is mainly studied as a population level phenomenon from the fruiting tree perspective. Our study of individual seedling fate revealed that intrinsic biotic factors and seed placement were key drivers of survival. Although biotic determinants such as competition from conspecifics or heterospecifics or herbivory did not determine survival, their ubiquitous presence may be an underlying equalizer in community dynamics where seedlings that overcome biotic pressures, if placed at the right micro-site, are at better odds at being recruited to the next life history stages.


The data were collected in the subtropical forest of Cenwanglaoshan in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in south China. Data were collected in the field or obtained summarizing field data. More details are available in the published manuscript methods section or can be obtained by contacting the authors.

Usage notes

All data are located in three spreadsheets within a single file. For each dataframe there is a separate spreadsheet with a legend explaining each variable presented in the main dataframe.


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31660125

Guangxi Overseas High‐level Talent “Hundred People Program”

Guangxi Science and Technology Program, Award: Guike AB16380254

Bagui Scholarship, Award: C33600992001