Seed dormancy and germination changes of snowbed species under climate warming: the role of pre- and post-dispersal temperatures

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Background and Aims Climate warming has major impacts on seed germination of several alpine species, hence on their regeneration capacity. Most studies have investigated the effects of warming after seed dispersal, and little is known about the effects a warmer parental environment may have on germination and dormancy of the seed progeny. Nevertheless, temperatures during seed development and maturation could alter the state of dormancy, affecting the timing of emergence and seedling survival. Here, the interplay between pre- and post-dispersal temperatures driving seed dormancy release and germination requirements of alpine plants were investigated.

Methods Three plant species inhabiting alpine snowbeds were exposed to an artificial warming treatment (i.e. +1·5 K) and to natural conditions in the field. Seeds produced were exposed to six different periods of cold stratification (0, 2, 4, 8, 12 and 20 weeks at 0 °C), followed by four incubation temperatures (5, 10, 15 and 20 °C) for germination testing.

Key Results A warmer parental environment produced either no or a significant increase in germination, depending on the duration of cold stratification, incubation temperatures and their interaction. In contrast, the speed of germination was less sensitive to changes in the parental environment. Moreover, the effects of warming appeared to be linked to the level of (physiological) seed dormancy, with deeper dormant species showing major changes in response to incubation temperatures and less dormant species in response to cold stratification periods.

Conclusions Plants developed under warmer climates will produce seeds with changed germination responses to temperature and/or cold stratification, but the extent of these changes across species could be driven by seed dormancy traits. Transgenerational plastic adjustments of seed germination and dormancy shown here may result from increased seed viability, reduced primary and secondary dormancy state, or both, and may play a crucial role in future plant adaptation to climate change.

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