Ecological aspects of seed desiccation sensitivity

John C. Tweddle, John B. Dickie, Carol C. Baskin, Jerry M. Baskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

317 Scopus citations


1. The ability of seeds to survive desiccation is an important functional trait and is an integral part of plant regeneration ecology. Despite this, the topic has received relatively little attention from ecologists. In this study, we examine the relationships between seed desiccation tolerance and two important aspects of plant regeneration ecology: habitat and dormancy. This is done by comparative analysis of a data set of 886 tree and shrub species from 93 families. 2. The proportion of species displaying desiccation sensitive seeds declines as the habitat becomes drier, and possibly also cooler, although the latter observation requires cautious interpretation. Desiccation sensitivity is most common in moist, relatively aseasonal vegetation zones, but is infrequent in, though not absent from arid and highly seasonal habitats. 3. The highest frequency of desiccation sensitivity occurs in non-pioneer evergreen rain forest trees, although 48% of the species examined have desiccation tolerant seeds. In contrast, all pioneer taxa within the data set have drying tolerant seeds. 4. Desiccation sensitivity is more frequent in seeds that are non-dormant on shedding (c. 31%), than dormant (c. 9%). Highest frequencies of drying tolerance occur in seeds with physical or combinational dormancy, at 99% and 100%, respectively. 5. Although there is an association between non-dormancy and desiccation sensitivity in both tropical and temperate zones, the relationship does not appear to be causal. 6. Working from the hypothesis that seed desiccation sensitivity represents a derived state in extant species, we use the results to investigate and discuss possible ecological trade-offs and associated fitness advantages. These may explain the hypothesized repeated loss of this trait. The frequent association between large seed size and desiccation sensitivity is also considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-304
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003


  • Dormancy
  • Habitat
  • Regeneration ecology
  • Seed
  • Seed desiccation sensitivity
  • Seed desiccation tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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