Journal Article

Co-adaptation of seed dormancy and flowering time in the arable weed <i>Capsella bursa-pastoris</i> (shepherd's purse)

Peter E. Toorop, Rafael Campos Cuerva, Graham S. Begg, Bruna Locardi, Geoff R. Squire and Pietro P. M. Iannetta

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 2, pages 481-489
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online December 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Co-adaptation of seed dormancy and flowering time in the arable weed Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd's purse)

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


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Background and Aims

The duration of the plant life cycle is an important attribute that determines fitness and coexistence of weeds in arable fields. It depends on the timing of two key life-history traits: time from seed dispersal to germination and time from germination to flowering. These traits are components of the time to reproduction. Dormancy results in reduced and delayed germination, thus increasing time to reproduction. Genotypes in the arable seedbank predominantly have short time to flowering. Synergy between reduced seed dormancy and reduced flowering time would create stronger contrasts between genotypes, offering greater adaptation in-field. Therefore, we studied differences in seed dormancy between in-field flowering time genotypes of shepherd's purse.


Genotypes with early, intermediate or late flowering time were grown in a glasshouse to provide seed stock for germination tests. Secondary dormancy was assessed by comparing germination before and after dark-incubation. Dormancy was characterized separately for seed myxospermy heteromorphs, observed in each genotype. Seed carbon and nitrogen content and seed mass were determined as indicators of seed filling and resource partitioning associated with dormancy.

Key Results

Although no differences were observed in primary dormancy, secondary dormancy was weaker among the seeds of early-flowering genotypes. On average, myxospermous seeds showed stronger secondary dormancy than non-myxospermous seeds in all genotypes. Seed filling was similar between the genotypes, but nitrogen partitioning was higher in early-flowering genotypes and in non-myxospermous seeds.


In shepherd's purse, early flowering and reduced seed dormancy coincide and appear to be linked. The seed heteromorphism contributes to variation in dormancy. Three functional groups of seed dormancy were identified, varying in dormancy depth and nitrate response. One of these groups (FG-III) was distinct for early-flowering genotypes. The weaker secondary dormancy of early-flowering genotypes confers a selective advantage in arable fields.

Keywords: Co-adaptation; Capsella bursa-pastoris; shepherd's purse; seedbank; flowering time; seed heteromorphism; light; nitrate; primary dormancy; secondary dormancy; weed; myxospermy; mucilage

Journal Article.  6145 words.  Illustrated.

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

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