Bearing fruit: flower removal reveals the trade-offs associated with high reproductive effort for lowbush blueberry

Alex W. Bajcz, Francis A. Drummond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Past studies have shown that taxa from disparate groups often respond similarly to reduced reproductive effort. These common responses imply that high reproductive effort trades off with a consistent set of other life functions for most angiosperms, albeit modulated by their growth form and life history. However, many questions remain about reproductive trade-offs in plants, including just how many other life functions they involve, how diverse these functions may be, and how the severity of these trade-offs may vary through time. To address these questions in a long-lived, iteroparous shrub, we performed flower removal on plots of lowbush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium (Ericaceae), over 3 years. We found significant physiological differences between removal and control plots for ten diverse traits. Vegetative phenology was shifted earlier by about 20% in removal plots, and removal plots had about 15% more vegetative biomass by mid-season as well. Removal plots produced about 10% more ripe fruit per reproductive node by harvest than control plots, and reproductive nodes in removal plots produced at least one fruit by harvest about 6% more often. While fruit water content and titratable acidity were increased by removal, other fruit traits, such as sugar content and fresh mass, were not. The strength of the removal effect varied significantly by year for seven traits; for many, such as vegetative mass/stem and ripe fruit production/node, the effect was stronger in years with more stressful abiotic conditions. Our results demonstrate that there are tangible but variable costs to high reproductive effort for flowering plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-26
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Drs. A. Dibble, M. Day, D. Yarborough, and D. Percival for critically reading this manuscript. Thanks also for suggestions by two anonymous reviewers and by the editorial staff, all of which considerably improved the manuscript. Thanks also to the Blueberry Hill Farm staff and to the University of Maine MAFES Analytical Lab for facilitating this research. We also thank our funding sources: The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Grant/Award Number: 2011-51181-30673); the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station (Grant/Award Number: 59156-5501023); and the University of Maine. This is Maine Agricultural Experiment Station Journal number 3569.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany.


  • Fruit quality
  • Physiological responses
  • Plant reproduction
  • Reproductive success
  • Seasonal variability


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