A continental-scale study of seed lifespan in experimental storage examining seed, plant, and environmental traits associated with longevity
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Management of seed banks conserving the biodiversity of phylogenetically diverse species requires insight into seed longevity. This study determined the seed longevity of 172 species sourced from across the mega-diverse flora of the Australia continent. Seeds were aged via a controlled ageing experiment through storage at 45 °C and 60 % RH, or 60 °C and 60 % RH, and regularly tested for germination. Relative seed longevity between species was determined by comparing the time to 50 % viability loss (p 50), calculated via probit analysis of seed survival curves. Seed, plant, and environmental traits were examined for associations with longevity. The p 50 values varied between species from 3.0 to 588.6 days. Serotinous species, and woody trees and shrubs, had significantly longer-lived seeds than geosporous species, and species of herbaceous habit. Seeds that possess physical dormancy, and seeds with large embryos with little endosperm, were also long-lived. There was a weak, but significant, positive correlation between seed mass and longevity. Seeds sourced from regions of higher mean annual temperature and rainfall were significantly longer-lived than seeds from cooler and drier regions, although both environmental factors were weakly associated with longevity. Compared with species from other regions of the world, prolonged longevity is a feature of many Australian species. Nevertheless, seed life-spans vary substantially between species and close consideration of seed traits along with biotic and abiotic components of the plants and their environment can assist to differentiate between potentially long- and short-lived seeds.
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