Evaluating the fitness effects of seed size and maternal tree size on Polylepis tomentella (Rosaceae) seed germination and seedling performance

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Abstract

In vascular plants, larger seeds are generally associated with higher germination potential, healthier seedlings and overall higher rates of survivorship. How this relationship holds or what other physiological tradeoffs evolved in plants adapted to high-altitude environments, such as the tropical and subtropical highland Polylepis tree, remain unclear. In this study, we evaluated the relationship between seed mass and seedling performance by testing the reserve effect, the metabolic effect, and the seedling-size effect hypotheses in Polylepis tomentella Weddell (Rosaceae). Since the relationship between fitness and seed size can often depend on maternal plant size, we additionally investigated the association between germination success, seedling performance (survival, relative growth rate (RGR) and height), and size of bearing-seed trees under controlled greenhouse conditions. Our results showed that heavier seeds are more likely to germinate, but we did not find evidence that could support the reserve effect, metabolic effect or seedling-size effect. As seedlings from larger and medium seeds exhibited comparatively similar RGR, survival percentages and final size, maternal plant size was positively associated with improved seed quality and seedling performance. These results demonstrate that seed mass and maternal size during early seedling establishment are critical for Polylepis persistence, demography and conservation.

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Domic, A. I., Capriles, J. M., & Camilo, G. R. (2020). Evaluating the fitness effects of seed size and maternal tree size on Polylepis tomentella (Rosaceae) seed germination and seedling performance. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 36(3), 115–122. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266467420000061

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