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Differential seed germination responses to the ratio of red to far-red light in temperate and tropical species

Tiansawat, Pimonrat, Dalling, James W.
Plant ecology 2013 v.214 no.5 pp. 751-764
buried seeds, correlation, far-red light, herbaceous plants, life history, light intensity, longevity, plant growth, probability, regression analysis, reproductive performance, seed dormancy, seed germination, sowing, tropical forests, Borneo
Variation in vegetation density creates a range of red to far-red ratios of irradiance (R:FR) potentially permitting fine-scale discrimination of light conditions for seed germination. However, remarkably few studies have explored whether R:FR responses of germination vary among species that differ in distribution and life-history traits. In this study, we explored the relationships between R:FR requirements and four species characteristics: seed mass, latitudinal distribution (tropical vs. temperate), seed dormancy (dormant vs. nondormant), and plant growth form (woody vs. nonwoody). We obtained data on germination response to R:FR of 62 species from published literature and added new data for ten species from aseasonal tropical forests in Borneo. First, we analyzed whether species characteristics influenced overall light dependency of germination using phylogenetic logistic regression. We found that seed mass had a strong negative effect on light dependency, but that the seed mass at which tropical taxa had a 50 % probability of light dependency was 40 times that of temperate taxa. For light-dependent species, we found that the threshold R:FR that stimulates 50 % of maximum germination (R:FR₅₀) was also related to seed mass and latitudinal distribution. In agreement with an earlier study, we found that for temperate taxa, the R:FR₅₀ was significantly negatively correlated with seed mass. In contrast, for 22 tropical taxa, we found a significant positive correlation. These opposing relationships suggest contrasting selection pressures on germination responses of tropical taxa (mostly trees) and temperate herbaceous plants, and which are likely related to differences in seed longevity, seed burial rates, and reproductive output.