Seed size and seedling growth: differential response of Australian and British Fabaceae to nutrient limitation


Author for correspondence: Mick Hanley Tel: +44 01752 238319 Fax: +44 01752 232970 Email:


  • • Seed size is widely held to exert an important influence over plant establishment, but while large seeds are often assumed to be at an advantage in nutrient-limited conditions, there is in fact, little consistent evidence to support this hypothesis.
  • • Here, we examined the interspecific relationship between seedling growth and seed size for Australian and British Fabaceae species in nutrient solutions deficient in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium or all nutrients combined (distilled water).
  • • The British species showed no consistent link between mean seed mass and seedling growth in nutrient-limited conditions. By contrast, all four nutrient-deficient treatments yielded a significant relationship for the Australian species. Linear regression showed that growth under balanced nutrient conditions was positively associated with growth without nutrients, although in fewer cases for the British species.
  • • We suggest that habitat-specific differences in regeneration conditions and/or evolutionary history may influence the role that seed size plays in dictating how seedlings of different species respond to nutrient shortage. We recommend caution in attempts to link traits like seed size to wider patterns of plant community ecology.