Phylogenetic relatedness mediates persistence and density of soil seed banks

Margherita Gioria, Petr Pyšek, Carol C. Baskin, Angelino Carta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Soil seed banks can strongly affect survival and expansion of plant populations by spreading mortality risks and distributing genetic diversity through time. Knowledge of the main factors regulating the ability of seeds to persist in the soil beyond the first germination season is however limited. While morphological and physiological seed traits, and the degree of environmental uncertainty are considered important in shaping the seed banking strategies of plants, global assessments that explicitly account for phylogenetic relatedness are lacking. Using a global seed bank database comprising data for 2,350 angiosperms, we examined the extent to which two seed bank properties, i.e. seed bank type (transient vs. persistent) and density of viable seed banks, are determined by phylogenetic relatedness. We then tested phylogenetic correlations between these properties with seed mass and seed dormancy (dormant vs. non-dormant), and the contribution of phylogenetic relatedness relative to that of climatic and habitat-related variables in shaping seed bank properties. We found significant phylogenetic signal in seed bank type and density, providing evidence that the ability to form persistent seed banks is not randomly distributed across the phylogeny. While the ability to persist in the soil was phylogenetically correlated to the production of dormant and smaller seeds, seed mass and seed dormancy per se were poor predictors of seed persistence. Interestingly, habitat-related variables (mainly disturbance and canopy openness) but not climate significantly affect the ability of seed plants to form persistent seed banks. Synthesis. Our study is the first to show that phylogenetic relatedness plays an important role in explaining seed bank properties in angiosperms and how these properties relate to early life-history traits, climate and habitat-related variables. These findings represent a starting point to assess the generality of persistent seed banks as a bet-hedging strategy in unpredictable environments and provide important insights into how seed plants might respond to global environmental changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2121-2131
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 British Ecological Society


  • angiosperm
  • phylogenetic signal
  • reproductive ecology
  • seed dormancy
  • seed mass
  • seed persistence
  • viable seeds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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