Seed quality and seed quantity in red maple depends on weather and individual tree characteristics

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© 2020 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Under future climate change, plant species are expected to shift their ranges in response to increasing temperatures and altered precipitation patterns. As seeds represent the single opportunity for plants to move, it is critical to quantify the factors that influence reproduction. While total seed production is clearly important, seed quality is equally as critical and often overlooked. Thus, to quantify how environmental and tree-level characteristics affect seed quality and quantity, the reproductive output of red maple (Acer rubrum) was measured along an elevation gradient in the Monongahela National Forest, WV. A variety of individual-level characteristics were measured (e.g., DBH, canopy area, height, and tree cores were taken to quantify growth), and seed traps were placed under seed-bearing trees to collect samaras and quantify total seed production. A random subsample of collected seeds from each tree was micro-CT scanned to determine embryo volume, photographed for morphology measurements, and used for germination trials. The number of seeds produced was negatively affected by frost events during flowering, and stand density. The trees with the most seeds also showed reduced growth in recent years. Only 63% of scanned seeds showed embryo development, and of those seeds—only 23% germinated. The likelihood of embryo presence increased as growth rate decreased, while embryo size increased with tree height, smaller DBH, and in areas dominated by hemlock. Both larger embryo volume and larger overall seed size increased the likelihood of germination. The results highlight the importance of including seed quality in addition to seed quantity for a more complete representation of reproductive output.