Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
LIMITED TIME ONLY: Discounted Pint Glass/Tote Bag Combo at $10 sustaining member level.

Something Wild: Why So Many Acorns?

We love answering listener's questions and recently we received one that is a common query at both the Audubon and the Forest Society.

Why is it that some years there are tons of acorns and other years hardly any?

The number of acorns a tree produces in a given year has to do with masting. Not mast like on tall ships, but mast as in masticate, or to chew and it refers to the fruit, seeds or nuts that trees produce and are in turn fodder for animals. Especially in New Hampshire, oak mast follows a boom or bust cycle, which means the amount of acorns varies from year to year. Over time, evolution has favored the oak trees that demonstrate this boom or bust cycle.

This keeps seed consumers off balance and that's actually a good thing. If there were the same amount of acorns every year, there would be just enough mice and turkey and deer and others to consume every single acorn. However, by producing very few acorns a couple of years running, they starve the animals and the populations of seed predators crash. Then, the oak has a boom year and there aren't enough animals to eat them all, which allows some of those acorn to become trees. Which means the oaks are calling the shots in the forest.

It goes even further than that. In response to boom years of acorn crops, the numbers of seed predators increases, so the following year there are more mice and squirrels and voles. This in turn leads to an increase in raptors that feed on those small animals. These boom and bust cycles affect humans too. One of the top acorn consumers is the white footed mouse. When there's a boom year and these little mice increase in number, the tick population that feeds on those mice goes up as well. More ticks means more ticks carrying lyme disease, which means an increase in lyme disease in humans. All this from the humble acorn.

And your questions! Keep those questions coming and we'll do our best to feature the answer in a future episode of Something Wild. You can send your questions to: We'd also love to see your photos too, florae, fauna, anything in nature that catches your eye.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.
Related Content

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.