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Comparative Longevity (Orthodox Seeds)

It is well known that seeds from different species show wide variation in longevity during dry-storage. In the seed bank, where seeds are stored at -20°C after drying to 15%RH at 15°C, seeds from some species may remain viable for hundreds of years whereas seeds from other species may only survive a few years at best. This has implications for the management of the collections, e.g. how often re-testing should be carried out, and perhaps in deciding whether conventional seed banking is an appropriate method of conservation for some, extremely short-lived species.

We have been testing seed longevity using a standard rapid ageing protocol for a number of years. For collections with large numbers of seeds, a sample of 600 is removed from storage and aged at 60% RH and 45°C; samples are taken at regular intervals and a germination test carried out. Probit analysis is carried out on the germination data in order to model the survival curve and rank the species according to the relative longevity.

One hundred and ninety five species from 71 families have been included in the study and an analysis of comparative longevity in relation to factors such as ecology, seed structure and climate of origin has been carried out. Our study has shown that species with small embryos from the cool moist regions are likely to be shorter lived than species with large embryos from warm dry regions. We have also shown that species in certain genera are consistently short-lived e.g. Primula, Gentiana and Rhododendron. Recent collaborative studies with colleagues at the University of Pavia, Italy, has also confirmed that the seeds of alpine species are consistently shorter lived that related lowland counterparts.




Project partners and collaborators

MSBP New South Wales
MSBP Queensland
MSBP Western Australia
MSBP South Australia
ItalyDepartmento di Ecologia del Territorio, University of Pavia.
KenyaMSBP Kenya

Project funders


Annex material

Key papers published since 2006:

Kochanek, J., Steadman, K., Probert, R. & Adkins S. (2009). Variation in seed longevity among different populations, species and genera found in collections from wild Australian plants. Australian Journal of Botany 57: 1-9.

Probert, R.J., Daws, M.I. & Hay, F.R. (2009). Ecological correlates of ex situ seed longevity: a comparative study on 195 species. Annals of Botany 104: 57-69.
Tuckett, R.E., Merritt, D.J., Hay, F.R., Hopper, S.D. & Dixon, K.W. (2010). Comparative longevity and low-temperature storage of seeds of Hydatellaceae and temporary pool species of south-west Australia. Australian Journal of Botany 58: 327-334.

Hay, F.R., Merritt, D.J., Soanes, J.A. & Dixon, K.W. (2010). Comparative longevity of Australian orchid (Orchidaceae) seeds under experimental and low temperature storage conditions. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 164: 26-41.

Mondoni, A., Probert, R.J., Rossi, G. & Hay, F.R. (2011). Seeds of alpine plants are short lived: implications for long term conservation. Annals of Botany 107: 171-179.

Crawford, A.D., Plummer, J.A., Probert, R.J. & Steadman, K.J. (2011). The influence of cone age on the relative longevity of Banksia seeds. Annals of Botany 107: 303–309.

Project Department

Project Leader: