Density-dependent germination and the role of seed leachate



Abstract While density dependence is a central issue in much of plant ecology, it is often overlooked during the crucial seed germination period of the plant life-cycle. Here, patterns of germination in relation to initial seed density for 12 phylogenetically-diverse perennial plant species are described from laboratory experiments. When each of the 12 species was analysed individually, seeds of Alysicarpus rugosus, Callistemon citrinus, Eragrostis curvula and Panicum miliaceum showed a significant decrease in the proportion of seeds germinating at high densities of conspecifics. A meta-analysis carried out by grouping 11 of the 12 species together revealed an overall significant effect for a decrease in the proportion of seeds germinating at high conspecific densities compared with low con-specific densities. Significant decreases in the proportion of seeds germinating are interpreted as risk reappraisal by seeds through dormancy in response to potentially hazardous conditions imposed by high density clusters of seeds all germinating at once. The four species that responded significantly to high densities individually were each treated at low densities with a leachate solution obtained from high density conspecifics. For Alysicarpus rugosus and Panicum miliaceum, this resulted in a significant decrease in the proportion of seeds germinating at simulated high densities implicating the leachate as a causative agent. Heterospecific effects were investigated similarly for A. rugosus and E. curvula by the addition of leachate from high density clusters of seeds of one species upon the other. Only A. rugosus decreased germination significantly through the addition of leachate. These results demonstrate the ability of seeds to predict environmental conditions of the habitat into which they will emerge in terms of potential competitive interactions from neighbouring seedlings.