Declining fruit production before death in a widely distributed tree species, Sorbus aucuparia L.

  • Mario B. PesendorferEmail author
  • Michał Bogdziewicz
  • Walter D. Koenig
  • Mateusz Ledwoń
  • Magdalena Żywiec
Research Paper


Key message

Trees are commonly thought to increase their seed production before death. We tested this terminal investment hypothesis using long-term data on rowan trees ( Sorbus aucuparia ) and found no support. Rather, seed production declined significantly before death, which points to the potential detrimental effects of reproductive senescence on regeneration in stands of old trees.


Aging poses a fundamental challenge for long-lived organisms. As mortality changes with with age due to actuarial senescence, reproductive senescence may also lead to declines in fertility. However, life history theory predicts that reproductive investment should increase before mortality to maximize lifetime reproductive success, a phenomenon termed terminal investment.


To date, it is unclear whether long-lived, indeterminantly growing trees experience reproductive senescence or display terminal investment.


We investigated fruit production of rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.), widely distributed trees that live up to 150 years, as they approached death.


In our study population in Poland’s Carpathian Mountains, 79 trees that died produced up to 20% fewer fruits in the years before their demise compared to 199 surviving trees of the same population.


The pattern of reproductive investment in S. aucuparia is suggestive of age-independent reproductive senescence rather than terminal investment. These findings highlight that the understanding of the generality of life history strategies across diverse taxa of perennial plants is still in its infancy.


Reproductive trade-offs Fruit production Senescence Sorbus aucuparia Terminal investment Rosaceae 


Funding information

This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (grant number DEB-1256394 to W.D.K.), Polish National Science Foundation (Sonatina grant number 2017/24/C/NZ8/00151 to M.B.), the Polish State Committee for Scientific Research (grant numbers 6 P04G 045 21, 3 P04G 111 25 to M.Z.), the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education (grant number N304 362938 to M.Z.), and the statutory fund of the Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cornell Laboratory of OrnithologyIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Hastings Natural History ReservationUniversity of CaliforniaCarmel ValleyUSA
  3. 3.Department of Systematic ZoologyAdam Mickiewicz UniversityPoznanPoland
  4. 4.Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry ApplicationsUniversity Autonoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  5. 5.Department of Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  6. 6.Institute of Systematics and Evolution of AnimalsPolish Academy of SciencesKrakowPoland
  7. 7.Centro de Ecologia Aplicada “Prof. Baeta Neves” (CEABN-InBIO), Instituto Superior de AgronomiaUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal
  8. 8.Władysław Szafer Institute of BotanyPolish Academy of SciencesKrakowPoland

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