Ecological significance of the aerial seed pool of a desert lignified annual, Blepharis sindica (Acanthaceae)

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Abstract

Reproductive traits of a lignified annual plant, Blepharis sindica were studied in relation to the formation of an ‘aerial seed pool’ on dead plants in an arid grassland in the Thar Desert of northwestern India. The dead plants remained standing on the soil surface and retained fruits for more than one year. Aerial seed pools developed about 6 cm above the ground. There were no seed pools on or below the ground surface. Only 5.7% of seeds died on dead plants because of insect predation or fungi infection during one year. Seed release was cued by rainfall, and a fraction of seeds on the aerial seed pools was released in each rainfall event. After 13 rainfall events during the monsoon season, 25% of seeds was still retained on the plants. Seed predation on the ground surface was intensive; all cones placed on the soil surface were removed within four days, and 97% of fruits were removed within 10 days. Fifty percent of seeds germinated within 3.5 h, and there were no differences in viability and time required for germination between first year seeds and older seeds. The results indicate that the aerial seed-holding on dead plants is an available way to avoid seed predation in harsh desert environments where seed predation is intense and favorable periods for growth are temporally limited and unpredictable.

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