Dormant plant seeds allow for greater species diversity

By Brooks Hays  |  Updated April 19, 2014 at 7:10 AM
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DURHAM, N.C., April 18 (UPI) -- Seeds that sprout quickly are a boon for farmers and gardeners who value productivity and efficiency, but if diversity is your bag then you'll want to stick with wild plants featuring especially dormant seeds.

New research by scientists at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina proves that more patient and strategic dormant plant seeds result in a more diverse array of species.

Dormant seeds are seeds that refrain from jumping the gun on the first signs of spring, waiting a little longer until risks of a late frost or drought have subsided and good weather is more likely. But now scientists think seed dormancy may have long-term advantages too.

"Having the capacity to fine-tune their development to the environment seems to be crucial for diversification," said Rubio de Casas of the Universidad of Granada in Spain, who collaborated with American researchers on the study.

The research was published earlier this year in the journal New Phytologist.

Researchers arrived at their conclusions by analyzing 40 years of data compiled by world-renowned University of Kentucky seed scientists Jerry and Carol Baskin. In comparing dormancy data for more than 14,000 species of trees, shrubs, vines and herbs from all over the world, scientists realized species diversity was strongly linked to seeds with a better sense of time. In other words, seeds with a more finely tuned ability to coordinate sprouting with environmental cues begat a greater array of new species.

"Our results suggest that even the earliest seeds had this ability," de Casas said.

Seed dormancy isn't always just a matter of days or weeks. Some plant embryos can lie dormant in their seed pods for hundreds of years. The record for oldest sprouted seed is held by a date palm, which sprang to life from a 2,000-year-old seed recovered from ancient Israeli ruins.

[New Phytologist]

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