Journal Article

Germination traits explain soil seed persistence across species: the case of Mediterranean annual plants in cereal fields

Arne Saatkamp, Laurence Affre, Thierry Dutoit and Peter Poschlod

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 107, issue 3, pages 415-426
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online January 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Germination traits explain soil seed persistence across species: the case of Mediterranean annual plants in cereal fields

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


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Background and Aims

Seed persistence in the soil under field conditions is an important issue for the maintenance of local plant populations and the restoration of plant communities, increasingly so in the light of rapidly changing land use and climate change. Whereas processes important for dispersal in space are well known, knowledge of processes governing dispersal in time is still limited. Data for morphological seed traits such as size have given contradictory results for prediction of soil seed persistence or cover only a few species. There have been few experimental studies on the role of germination traits in determining soil seed persistence, while none has studied their predictive value consistently across species. Delayed germination, as well as light requirements for germination, have been suggested to contribute to the formation of persistent seed banks. Moreover, diurnally fluctuating temperatures can influence the timing of germination and are therefore linked to seed bank persistence.


The role of germination speed measured by T50 (days to germination of 50 % of all germinated seeds), light requirement and reaction to diurnally fluctuating temperatures in determining seed persistence in the soil was evaluated using an experimental comparative data set of 25 annual cereal weed species.

Key Results

It is shown that light requirements and slow germination are important features to maintain seeds ungerminated just after entering the soil, and hence influence survival of seeds in the soil. However, the detection of low diurnally fluctuating temperatures enhances soil seed bank persistence by limiting germination. Our data further suggest that the effect of diurnally fluctuating temperatures, as measured on seeds after dispersal and dry storage, is increasingly important to prevent fatal germination after longer burial periods.


These results underline the functional role of delayed germination and light for survival of seeds in the soil and hence their importance for shaping the first part of the seed decay curve. Our analyses highlight the detection of diurnally fluctuating temperatures as a third mechanism to achieve higher soil seed persistence after burial which interacts strongly with season. We therefore advocate focusing future research on mechanisms that favour soil seed persistence after longer burial times and moving from studies of morphological features to exploration of germination traits such as reaction to diurnally fluctuating temperatures.

Keywords: Diurnally fluctuating temperatures; delayed germination; T50; gap detection; light requirement; dormancy; Asteraceae; Campanulaceae; Apiaceae; Papaveraceae; soil seed bank

Journal Article.  7687 words.  Illustrated.

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

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