, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 433-444
Date: 17 Mar 2005

Seed germination of high mountain Mediterranean species: altitudinal, interpopulation and interannual variability

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The germination response of 20 species from high altitude Mediterranean climates, most of them rare endemics, was studied. Our main goal was to model the germination response of a complete set of Iberian high mountain species. The effect of temperature and other parameters, such as spatial and temporal short gradients, on germination were also evaluated. Some seed features (mass and size) were also related to the germination response. Finally, we tested the effect of cold-wet stratification pretreatment when germination was low under natural conditions. Seeds were collected at four locations from 1,900 to 2,400 m a.s.l. in the Sierra de Guadarrama (Spanish Central Range) over two consecutive growing seasons (2001–2002) and submitted to different temperatures and a constant photoperiod of 16 h light/8 h darkness. Most plants readily germinate without treatment, reaching an optimum at relatively high temperatures in contrast to lowland Mediterranean species. Seeds seem to be physiologically prepared for rapid germination even though these plants usually face very intense summer droughts after ripening and dispersal. Germination was also highly variable among altitudes, populations and years, but results were inconsistent among species. Such flexibility could be interpreted as an efficient survival strategy for species growing under unpredictable environments, such as the Mediterranean climate. Finally cold-wet stratification increased germination capacity in five of nine dormant species, as widely reported for many arctic, boreal and alpine species. In conclusion, high mountain Mediterranean species do not differ from alpine species except that a relatively high number of species are ready to germinate without any treatment.