Successful crop production depends initially on the availability of high-quality seed. By 2050 global climate change will have influenced crop yields, but will these changes affect seed quality? The present review examines the effects of elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperature during seed production on three seed quality components: seed mass, germination and seed vigour.
In response to elevated CO2, seed mass has been reported to both increase and decrease in C3 plants, but not change in C4 plants. Increases are greater in legumes than non-legumes, and there is considerable variation among species. Seed mass increases may result in a decrease of seed nitrogen (N) concentration in non-legumes. Increasing temperature may decrease seed mass because of an accelerated growth rate and reduced seed filling duration, but lower seed mass does not necessarily reduce seed germination or vigour.
Like seed mass, reported seed germination responses to elevated CO2 have been variable. The reported changes in seed C/N ratio can decrease seed protein content which may eventually lead to reduced viability. Conversely, increased ethylene production may stimulate germination in some species. High-temperature stress before developing seeds reach physiological maturity (PM) can reduce germination by inhibiting the ability of the plant to supply the assimilates necessary to synthesize the storage compounds required for germination.
Nothing is known concerning the effects of elevated CO2 on seed vigour. However, seed vigour can be reduced by high-temperature stress both before and after PM. High temperatures induce or increase the physiological deterioration of seeds. Limited evidence suggests that only short periods of high-temperature stress at critical seed development stages are required to reduce seed vigour, but further research is required.
The predicted environmental changes will lead to losses of seed quality, particularly for seed vigour and possibly germination. The seed industry will need to consider management changes to minimize the risk of this occurring.