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Consistent variation in seed germination across an environmental gradient in a Neotropical savanna

By N.M. Sales, F. Pérez-García and F.A.O. Silveira

Abstract

AbstractEnvironmental conditions experienced by mother plants determine germination patterns. Here, we investigated the germination ecology of Miconia albicans (Melastomataceae), a widespread apomictic shrub, along a soil fertility gradient in the Brazilian Cerrado (a Neotropical savanna). The mosaic of vegetations in the Cerrado ranges from grasslands to woodlands, which present different conditions for seedling establishment. Cerrado grasslands are a more unpredictable environment because they are more prone to disturbances such as fires and prolonged droughts than closed woodlands. We expect lower reproductive investment but increasing germinability, germination speed and synchrony in areas with more dense vegetation, due to prolonged droughts in grasslands and higher soil properties in woodlands. Seeds of M. albicans were collected in grasslands, shrublands and woodlands for three years in a Cerrado area in southeastern Brazil. Seeds collected in all vegetations were set to germinate under identical experimental conditions. According to our prediction, we found a consistent pattern of increasing germinability, mean germination time and synchrony in areas with more closed vegetation. Both slower and asynchronous germination in seeds from grassland plants are likely to increase seedling survival under a more unpredictable environment. On the other hand, seeds from plants in the woodlands germinated at higher rates and germination was more synchronous, thus increases the chances of survival under a more competitive light-limited environment. This pattern was found in all three years of study. Our study suggests that stressful environmental conditions experienced by mother plants in the Cerrado may act as cues signalizing unfavourable conditions for seed germination and help explain functional divergence in germination traits within species. In conclusion, we showed for the first time a temporally consistent pattern of intraspecific variation in the germination traits of M. albicans, with different germination strategies at the extremes of the ecological gradient

Publisher: South African Association of Botanists. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Year: 2013
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.sajb.2013.04.001
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