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A continental-scale study of seed lifespan in experimental storage examining seed, plant, and environmental traits associated with longevity

Abstract

Management of seed banks conserving the biodiversity of phylogenetically diverse species requires insight into seed longevity. This study determined the seed longevity of 172 species sourced from across the mega-diverse flora of the Australia continent. Seeds were aged via a controlled ageing experiment through storage at 45 °C and 60 % RH, or 60 °C and 60 % RH, and regularly tested for germination. Relative seed longevity between species was determined by comparing the time to 50 % viability loss (p 50), calculated via probit analysis of seed survival curves. Seed, plant, and environmental traits were examined for associations with longevity. The p 50 values varied between species from 3.0 to 588.6 days. Serotinous species, and woody trees and shrubs, had significantly longer-lived seeds than geosporous species, and species of herbaceous habit. Seeds that possess physical dormancy, and seeds with large embryos with little endosperm, were also long-lived. There was a weak, but significant, positive correlation between seed mass and longevity. Seeds sourced from regions of higher mean annual temperature and rainfall were significantly longer-lived than seeds from cooler and drier regions, although both environmental factors were weakly associated with longevity. Compared with species from other regions of the world, prolonged longevity is a feature of many Australian species. Nevertheless, seed life-spans vary substantially between species and close consideration of seed traits along with biotic and abiotic components of the plants and their environment can assist to differentiate between potentially long- and short-lived seeds.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Sam Clarke, Todd Erickson, Lydia Guja, and Jessica Taylor for technical assistance. Gavin Flematti and Adrian Scaffidi (School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UWA) synthesized the KAR1 used in this study. This research was supported in part by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (LP0455415) and was conducted under the auspices of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, Kew, which is supported by the UK Millennium Commission, the Welcome Trust and Orange plc.

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Correspondence to David J. Merritt.

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Communicated by David Hawksworth.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 2.

Table 2 Characteristics of the species used in this study

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Merritt, D.J., Martyn, A.J., Ainsley, P. et al. A continental-scale study of seed lifespan in experimental storage examining seed, plant, and environmental traits associated with longevity. Biodivers Conserv 23, 1081–1104 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0641-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0641-6

Keywords

  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Climate
  • Gene bank
  • Germination
  • Seed bank
  • Serotiny