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Large seeds provide an intrinsic growth advantage that depends on leaf traits and root allocation


Simpson, Kimberley et al. (2021), Large seeds provide an intrinsic growth advantage that depends on leaf traits and root allocation, Dryad, Dataset,


Seed mass and growth rate are important dimensions of plant ecological diversity, but their relationship remains unresolved. Negative relationships between relative growth rate (RGR) and seed mass are well established. However, RGR is size-dependent, so small-seeded species might achieve fast growth simply because they are initially small.

Using a dataset of unprecedented size, sampling 382 grass species, we investigated seed mass and growth rate using both RGR and SGR (RGR at a specific size), accounting for diversity in phylogeny, ecology (e.g. life history, photosynthetic pathway) and environment (mean annual temperature and precipitation).

RGR and SGR showed contrasting relationships with seed mass, such that large-seeded species had lower RGR but higher SGR than small-seeded species. However, the relationship between SGR and seed mass depended on leaf dry matter content (LDMC), and was only positive in high-LDMC species. When compared at a common size, the fast growth of large-seeded and low-LDMC species was associated with greater biomass allocation to roots in the hot, high-light environment used for our experiment. Photosynthetic pathway and life history contributed to variation in SGR, with C4 annuals having higher SGRs than C3 perennials regardless of seed size.

Large seeds therefore afford an intrinsic growth advantage in species with resource-conserving leaf traits, and may provide a competitive edge in resource-poor environments. This work advances understanding of how seed mass and growth rate coevolve with other ecological factors.


Natural Environment Research Council, Award: NE/I014322/1