Plant Ecology

, Volume 155, Issue 2, pp 237–243

Seed aging, delayed germination and reduced competitive ability in Bromus tectorum

  • Kevin J. Rice
  • Andrew R. Dyer


In annual plants, increased competitive advantage has often been attributed to rapid germination and early establishment. In contrast, many annual species exhibit some degree of delayed germination (i.e., seed dormancy) that results in the formation of age structure within the seed population. Delayed germination can be an effective bet-hedging strategy in variable or unpredictable environments as a seed bank can buffer against years with reproductive failures and reduce the probability of local extinction. However, there has been little consideration of the direct effects of aging within the seed pool although the potential demographic costs of such a strategy (e.g., mortality in the seed bank or delayed reproduction) are well known. We used aged (4 year-old) and freshly produced seed from meadow steppe and sagebrush steppe populations of an annual grass (Bromus tectorum)to investigate the importance of seed age on seedling vigor and competitive ability. Aged seed from the meadow steppe population exhibited delays in germination that reduced plant growth and final biomass when the plants were grown with competition. Aged seed from the sagebrush steppe population did not exhibit delays in germination. By including a treatment that experimentally delayed the germination of freshly produced meadow steppe seed, we also examined the effects of delayed germination alone. A comparison of results from this delay treatment with those from the aged seed treatment suggested that the reduced competitive ability of meadow steppe plants produced from aged seed, although largely a result of the temporal delay in germination, was partly due to reduced seed vigor. Together these results indicate that physiological costs associated with seed age may affect aboveground competitive interactions and, in turn, the relative fitness of older cohorts in the soil seed bank.

Annual grass Competition Delayed germination Dormancy Seed bank 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin J. Rice
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andrew R. Dyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Agronomy & Range ScienceUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.Center for Population BiologyUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  3. 3.Dept. of Biology & GeologyUniversity of South Carolina-AikenAikenUSA

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