Journal Article

Seeds of alpine plants are short lived: implications for long-term conservation

Andrea Mondoni, Robin J. Probert, Graziano Rossi, Emanuele Vegini and Fiona R. Hay

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 107, issue 1, pages 171-179
Published in print January 2011 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online November 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Seeds of alpine plants are short lived: implications for long-term conservation

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Alpine plants are considered one of the groups of species most sensitive to the direct and indirect threats to ecosystems caused by land use and climate change. Collecting and banking seeds of plant species is recognized as an effective tool for providing propagating material to re-establish wild plant populations and for habitat repair. However, seeds from cold wet environments have been shown to be relatively short lived in storage, and therefore successful long-term seed conservation for alpine plants may be difficult. Here, the life spans of 69 seed lots representing 63 related species from alpine and lowland locations from northern Italy are compared.


Seeds were placed into experimental storage at 45 °C and 60 % relative humidity (RH) and regularly sampled for germination. The time taken in storage for viability to fall to 50 % (p50) was determined using probit analysis and used as a measure of relative seed longevity between seed lots.

Key Results

Across species, p50 at 45 °C and 60 % RH varied from 4·7 to 95·5 d. Seed lots from alpine populations/species had significantly lower p50 values compared with those from lowland populations/species; the lowland seed lots showed a slower rate of loss of germinability, higher initial seed viability, or both. Seeds were progressively longer lived with increased temperature and decreased rainfall at the collecting site.


Seeds of alpine plants are short lived in storage compared with those from lowland populations/related taxa. The lower resistance to ageing in seeds of alpine plants may arise from low selection pressure for seed resistance to ageing and/or damage incurred during seed development due to the cool wet conditions of the alpine climate. Long-term seed conservation of several alpine species using conventional seed banking methods will be problematic.

Keywords: Seed longevity; climate; alpine plants; seed bank storage

Journal Article.  5480 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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