Journal Article

Seed dormancy distribution: explanatory ecological factors

Kristen Wagmann, Nina-Coralie Hautekèete, Yves Piquot, Cécile Meunier, S. Eric Schmitt and Henk Van Dijk

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 110, issue 6, pages 1205-1219
Published in print November 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online September 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Seed dormancy distribution: explanatory ecological factors

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


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Background and Aims

Knowledge of those traits that vary with latitude should be helpful in predicting how they may evolve locally under climate change. In the sea beet Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima, seed dormancy largely controls the timing of germination, is highly heritable and varies geographically; it is therefore thought to be selected by climate. The aim here was to characterize the variation in seed dormancy among sea beet populations across the French distribution area, as well as the ecological factors in situ that are correlated with and that could therefore select for seed dormancy. The relative importance of genetic inheritance vs. non-genetic variation is also evaluated.


The proportions of dormant seeds from 85 natural populations encompassing different climates over the whole French distribution area were measured under controlled conditions. Germination phenology was observed in a common garden experiment. Dormancy variation of seeds collected in situ was compared with that of seeds collected on plants grown in the greenhouse.

Key Results

The proportions of dormant seeds in the greenhouse were highly variable, covering almost the entire range from 0 to 1, and followed a geographical pattern from lower dormancy at high latitudes to high dormancy at low latitudes. The distribution of dormancy was positively correlated with yearly temperatures, especially summer temperatures. Minimum temperatures in winter did not significantly explain the trait variation. The genetic component of the total variation was significant and is probably completed by an important adjustment to the local conditions brought about by maternal adaptive phenotypic plasticity.


Dormancy in sea beet could be interpreted as a way to limit summer germination and spread germination over the first autumn and spring or following autumns. This highly heritable trait has the potential to evolve in the relatively near future because of climate change.

Keywords: Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima; trait distribution; seed dormancy; germination phenology; life history; ecological factors; seasons; climatic factors; latitudinal gradient; climate change

Journal Article.  11054 words.  Illustrated.

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

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