Seed dormancy cycling and the regulation of dormancy mechanisms to time germination in variable field environments

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Many molecular mechanisms that regulate dormancy have been identified individually in controlled laboratory studies. However, little is known about how the seed employs this complex suite of mechanisms during dormancy cycling in the variable environment of the soil seed bank. Nevertheless, this behaviour is essential to ensure germination takes place in a favourable habitat and climate space, and in the correct season for the resulting plant to complete its life cycle. During their time in the soil seed bank, seeds continually adjust their dormancy status by sensing a range of environmental signals. Those related to slow seasonal change (e.g. temperature) are used for temporal sensing to determine the time of year and depth of dormancy. This alters their sensitivity to signals related to their spatial environment (e.g. light, nitrate, and water potential) that indicate that conditions are suitable for germination, and so trigger the termination of dormancy. We review work on the physiological, molecular, and ecological aspects of seed dormancy in Arabidopsis and interpret it in the context of dormancy cycling in the soil seed bank. This approach has provided new insight into the co-ordination of mechanisms and signalling networks, and the multidimensional sensing that regulates dormancy cycling in a variable environment.

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