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Recruitment of pioneer trees with physically dormant seeds under climate change: the case of Vachellia pennatula (Fabaceae) in semiarid environments of Mexico


Most tree species native to arid and semiarid ecosystems produce seeds with physical dormancy, which have impermeable coats that protect them from desiccation and prevent germination when the environmental conditions are unfavorable for seedling establishment. This dormancy mechanism may confer some degree of tolerance to seeds facing warmer and drier conditions, as those expected in several regions of the world because of climate change. Scarification of these seeds (removal of protective coats) is required for stimulating germination and seedling development. However, as scarification exposes seeds to the external environmental conditions, it can promote desiccation and viability loss in the future. To test these hypotheses, we performed field experiments and sowed scarified and unscarified seeds of a pioneer tree native to semiarid ecosystems of Mesoamerica (Vachellia pennatula) under the current climate and simulated climate change conditions. The experiments were conducted at abandoned fields using open-top chambers to increase temperature and rainout shelters to reduce rainfall. We measured microenvironmental conditions within the experimental plots and monitored seedling emergence and survival during a year. Air temperature and rainfall in climate change simulations approached the values expected for the period 2041–2080. Seedling emergence rates under these climatic conditions were lower than under the current climate. Nevertheless, emergence rates in climate change simulations were even lower for scarified than for unscarified seeds, while the converse occurred under the current climate. On the other hand, although survival rates in climate change simulations were lower than under the current climate, no effects of the scarification treatment were found. In this way, our study suggests that climate change will impair the recruitment of pioneer trees in semiarid environments, even if they produce seeds with physical dormancy, but also indicates that these negative effects will be stronger if seeds are scarified.

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The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available in the Zenodo repository [].


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We thank Francisco A. Guerra-Coss and Juan P. Rodas-Ortiz for their valuable contribution in the manipulation of seeds in the laboratory and the mounting and monitoring of experiments in the field.


This study was financially supported by Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología de México under grant FORDECYT 297525.

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All authors contributed to the conception and design of the study, collected the data and analyzed them. EIB prepared the figures and wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ernesto I. Badano.

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Sandoval-Martínez, J., Flores-Cano, J.A. & Badano, E.I. Recruitment of pioneer trees with physically dormant seeds under climate change: the case of Vachellia pennatula (Fabaceae) in semiarid environments of Mexico. J Plant Res 135, 453–463 (2022).

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  • Open-top chambers
  • Physical dormancy
  • Rainout shelters
  • Seedling emergence
  • Seedling survival