Seed-dormancy depth is partitioned more strongly among habitats than among species in tropical ephemerals

Cross A.T., Barrett M.D., Turner S.R., Dixon K.W., Merritt D.J. (2018) Seed-dormancy depth is partitioned more strongly among habitats than among species in tropical ephemerals. Australian Journal of Botany 66:230–242. [online] URL:

Seed biology in the annual herbaceous flora of ecologically stressful, seasonally wet habitats remains largely unexplored. Temporal and spatial species turnover among these habitats is often high, yet little is known about how fine-scale habitat variation drives intraspecific variability in seed dormancy depth and seed germination requirements. The present study characterised seed dormancy and investigated the germination biology of six closely related herbaceous annual species of Byblis from northern Australia. We assessed variation in the response of seeds of all species to temperature cues, as well as light and the naturally occurring germination stimulants karrikinolide (KAR1) and ethylene. We also examined intraspecific variation in germination response and seed-dormancy depth for three widely distributed species with overlapping distribution occurring in habitats with differing soil thermal and hydrological conditions. Seed germination in all six species was significantly increased by exposure to either KAR1 or ethylene, with this effect being amplified in two species (B. filifolia and B. rorida) following a period of warm, dry after-ripening. Seed-dormancy depth and the germination response of seeds to both KAR1 and ethylene were partitioned more strongly among habitats than among species. Populations on shallow (<20-cm soil depth) sandy soils produced less dormant seeds than did populations of the same species on deeper sandy soils (40+ cm) or on heavy cracking clays. The upper soil profile of shallow soil habitats was exposed to higher average temperatures, greater diurnal temperature fluctuation and greatly reduced moisture persistence compared with deeper soils. Fine-scale differences in the thermal and hydrological conditions of seasonally wet habitats appear to be strong drivers of dormancy depth in seeds of tropical Byblis. Widely distributed species exhibit high levels of plasticity in seed-dormancy depth and germination response among different habitats, with similar responses being observed for sympatric species. So as to fully understand species turnover in tropical ephemerals, future studies should examine phenotypic plasticity and the rate of local adaptation of seed traits in greater detail.