Effects of acorn size and mass on seedling quality of northern red oak (Quercus rubra)
Oaks are not sustainable in many upland temperate forests because of poor recruitment resulting from natural regeneration. Artificial regeneration is an alternative to natural regeneration, but is difficult, in part, due to large variation in seedling quality. In this study, we examined the effects of acorn size and mass on nursery seedling morphological parameters commonly used to quantify seedling quality, and we determined if genetic factors affected these relationships. Acorns were collected from six open-pollinated orchard trees (i.e., six half-sib families), and were separated into six size classes based on acorn diameter (ranging from 1.3 to 2.5 cm). Samples from each size class were weighed for total fresh mass. Acorns were sown in a commercial bareroot nursery in Polk County, Tennessee, USA, and seedlings were grown for 1 year using nursery protocols to maximize growth. Seedling survival was generally not affected by acorn size class or mass, except one family had higher survival in the larger acorn size classes. Five of the six families had no discernable relationship between acorn size class and seedling size. Acorn mass was positively related to seedling morphology, but relationships were weak (R2 ≤ 0.11) and biologically insignificant. Neither acorn size nor mass could be used reliably to predict seedling survival or morphological indicators of seedling quality. We hypothesized that results were affected by an unusually long growing season and advanced fertilization regimes at the nursery, which may have negated acorn size/mass effects on seedling growth. Family affected relationships between acorn size/mass and seedling morphology, indicating that family selections could improve overall seedling quality.