Maternal Environment Effects on Seed Germination and Dormancy: Inter-Site and -Season Comparisons

Desterio Nyamongo inspecting maturing seeds of Vernonia galamensis, an important oilseed species in Kenya

This project is one of a series in the theme 'Climate and Reproductive Biology'.

The conditions the maternal plant is exposed to during seed development can impact on a range of seed quality traits including the level of seed dormancy and germinability. However, the vast majority of studies on the maternal environment have focused on crop and weed species and as a result little is known about the impact of maternal effects on seed biology as well as the potential implications for seedling survival for wild plant species.

To address this issue we are focussing our efforts on determining the relative contribution of environmental versus genetic control of seed adaptations to their local micro-climate. Three strategies are being employed to address this issue 1) characterising the germination / dormancy response of seed lots collected from sites differing in climate during seed development, 2) reciprocal transplants of seed lots to locations of differing climate to investigate whether observed germination responses reflect maternal effects or genetic adaptation and 3) growing plants from seed lots collected from contrasting climatic conditions to obtain seed lots produced under standardised conditions to separate maternal from genetic effects on germination responses.

These approaches are being pursued through MSBP funded PhD projects with partner institutes in Australia, Kenya and South Africa. For example, work in Kenya is exploring the effect of growing conditions (particularly temperature) on seed traits of the potential oil crop Vernonia galamensis (Asteraceae). Studies on Vernonia have already demonstrated a key role for maternal environmental conditions in determining seed quality - seeds, from the same original seed lot, were grown in sites with contrasting climatic conditions resulting in substantial differences in dormancy level in the ensuing seed crops.

Project Team

Project Leader: Pritchard, Hugh

Seed Conservation Department

Moctar Sacande, Charlotte Seal

Project Partners and Collaborators


University of Queensland


Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)

University of Masego

South Africa

University of KwaZulu Natal