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Impacts of short-term germination delay on fitness of the annual weed Agrostemma githago (L.)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 May 2016

A. Theresa Rühl*
Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany
Tobias W. Donath
Department of Landscape Ecology, Institute for Natural Resource Conservation, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel, 24118 Kiel, Germany
Annette Otte
Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resource Management, Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany
R. Lutz Eckstein
Department of Environmental and Life Sciences – Biology, Karlstad University, 651 88 Karlstad, Sweden


Time of seedling emergence is an important step in the life cycle of annual plants because it may determine subsequent performance and success. Timing of emergence is especially critical to plant performance in habitats like arable fields which are subject to frequent disturbances. Within-season variation in timing of germination in the range of only a few days is typical for many arable weeds. However, since it is unclear whether such small deviations in germination date translate into fitness differences in the course of the life cycle, the aim of this paper was to quantify the effects of short germination delays on plant performance. We conducted two generalized randomized block experiments in an unheated greenhouse to study the impact of delayed germination (1, 2, 3 and 7 d) with and without competition, respectively, on the fitness of the arable weed species Agrostemma githago (L.). We expected that delayed germination significantly reduces fitness in terms of several life-history traits, and that the decrease of fitness is higher in the presence of competition. Under realistic conditions with competition through barley, Agrostemma plants with delayed germination of 7 d produced 54% fewer shoots, 57% less biomass, 52% fewer flowers, 36% lighter seeds and were 23% shorter as compared to control plants without delayed germination. Without additional stress through competition with barley this pattern was less pronounced. Thus, in the situation of interspecific competition, early emerging seedlings have biologically significant fitness advantages over later emerging seedlings of the same species.

Research Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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