Elucidating the physiological mechanisms of the irregular yet concerted flowering rhythm of mass flowering tree species in the tropics requires long-term monitoring of flowering phenology, exogenous and endogenous environmental factors, as well as identifying interactions and dependencies among these factors. To investigate the proximate factors for floral initiation of mast seeding trees in the tropics, we monitored the expression dynamics of two key flowering genes, meteorological conditions and endogenous resources over two flowering events of Shorea curtisii and Shorea leprosula in the Malay Peninsula. Comparisons of expression dynamics of genes studied indicated functional conservation of FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT) and LEAFY (LFY) in Shorea. The genes were highly expressed at least 1 month before anthesis for both species. A mathematical model considering the synergistic effect of cool temperature and drought on activation of the flowering gene was successful in predicting the observed gene expression patterns. Requirement of both cool temperature and drought for floral transition suggested by the model implies that flowering phenologies of these species are sensitive to climate change. Our molecular phenology approach in the tropics sheds light on the conserved role of flowering genes in plants inhabiting different climate zones and can be widely applied to dissect the flowering processes in other plant species.
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