Skip to main content

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

  • A. Theresa Rühl (a1), Tobias W. Donath (a2), Annette Otte (a1) and R. Lutz Eckstein (a3)

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.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence Email:
Hide All
Arnold, S., Kailichova, Y., Knauer, J., Ruthsatz, A.D. and Baumgartl, T. (2014) Effects of soil water potential on germination of co-dominant Brigalow species: implications for rehabilitation of water-limited ecosystems in the Brigalow Belt bioregion. Ecological Engineering 70, 3542.
Barrett, S.H. (1983) Crop mimicry in weeds. Economic Botany 37, 255282.
Baskin, C.C. and Baskin, J.M. (2001) Seeds – ecology, biogeography, and evolution of dormancy and germination. San Diego, USA, Academic Press.
Black, J.N. and Wilkinson, G.N. (1963) The role of time of emergence in determining the growth of individual plants in swards of subterranean clover. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 14, 628638.
Childs, D.Z., Metcalf, C.J.E. and Rees, M. (2010) Evolutionary bet-hedging in the real world: empirical evidence and challenges revealed by plants. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 277, 30553064.
Cook, R.E. (1980) Germination and size-dependent mortality in Viola blanda . Oecologia 47, 115117.
Cristaudo, A., Gresta, F., Catara, S. and Mingos, A. (2014) Assessment of daily heat pulse regimes on the germination of six Amaranthus species. Weed Research 54, 366376.
De Luis, M., Verdú, M. and Raventós, J. (2008) Early to rise makes a plant healthy, wealthy, and wise. Ecology 89, 30613071.
Donohue, K., Rubio de Casas, R., Burghardt, L., Kovach, K. and Willis, C.G. (2010) Germination, postgermination adaptation, and species ecological ranges. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 41, 293319.
Dyer, A.R., Fenech, A. and Rice, K.J. (2000) Accelerated seedling emergence in interspecific competitive neighbourhoods. Ecology Letters 3, 523529.
Eckstein, R.L. and Donath, T.W. (2005) Interactions between litter and water availability affect seedling emergence in four familial pairs of floodplain species. Journal of Ecology 93, 807816.
Ellenberg, H. and Leuschner, C. (2010) Vegetation Mitteleuropas mit den Alpen (6th edition). Stuttgart, Germany, Ulmer.
Fay, P.A. and Schultz, M.J. (2009) Germination, survival, and growth of grass and forb seedlings: effects of soil moisture variability. Acta Oecologica 35, 679684.
Firbank, L.G. and Watkinson, A.R. (1986) Modelling the population dynamics of an arable weed and its effects upon crop yield. Journal of Applied Ecology 23, 147159.
Funk, F.A., Loydi, A. and Peter, G. (2014) Effects of biological soil crusts and drought on emergence and survival of a Patagonian perennial grass in the Monte of Argentina. Journal of Arid Land 6, 735741.
González-Astorga, J. and Núñez-Farfán, J. (2000) Variable demography in relation to germination time in the annual plant Tagetes micrantha Cav. (Asteraceae). Plant Ecology 151, 253259.
Gremer, J.R. and Venable, D.L. (2014) Bet hedging in desert winter annual plants: optimal germination strategies in a variable environment. Ecology Letters 17, 380387.
Harper, J.L. (1977) Population biology of plants. London, UK, Academic Press.
Jankowska-Blaszczuk, M. and Daws, M.I. (2007) Impact of red:far red ratios on germination of temperate forest herbs in relation to shade tolerance, seed mass and persistence in the soil. Functional Ecology 21, 10551062.
Jones, R.H. and Sharitz, R.R. (1989) Potential advantages and disadvantages of germinating early for trees in floodplain forests. Oecologia 81, 443449.
Kalisz, S. (1986) Variable selection on the timing of germination in Collinsia verna (Scrophulariceae). Evolution 40, 479491.
Kelly, M.G. and Levin, D.A. (1997) Fitness consequences and heritability aspects of emergence date in Phlox drummondii . Journal of Ecology 85, 755766.
Klotz, S., Kühn, I. and Durka, W. (2002) BIOLFLOR – Eine Datenbank zu biologisch-ökologischen Merkmalen der Gefäßpflanzen in Deutschland. Series of publications for botanical knowledge (Schriftenreihe für Vegetationskunde) 38. Bonn – Bad Godesberg, Germany, Office for Nature Conservation.
Kornas, J. (1988) Speirochore Ackerwildkräuter: Von ökologischer Spezialisierung zum Aussterben. Flora 180, 8391.
Leishman, M.R., Wright, I.J., Moles, A.T. and Westoby, M. (2000) The evolutionary ecology of seed size. pp. 3157 in Fenner, M. (Ed.) Seeds: The ecology of regeneration in plant communities (2nd edition). Wallingford, UK, CABI Publishing.
Lopes Souza, M. and Fagundes, M. (2014) Seed size as key factor in germination and seedling development of Copaifera langsdorffii (Fabaceae). American Journal of Plant Sciences 5, 25662573.
Loydi, A., Donath, T.W., Otte, A. and Eckstein, R.L. (2015) Negative and positive interactions among plants: effect of competitors and litter on seedling emergence and growth of forest and grassland species. Plant Biology 17, 667675.
Ludewig, K., Zelle, B., Eckstein, R.L., Mosner, E., Otte, A. and Donath, T.W. (2014) Differential effects of reduced water potentials on the germination of grassland species indicating wet and dry habitats. Seed Science Research 24, 4961.
Ludwig, G. and Schnittler, M. (1996) Rote Liste gefährdeter Pflanzen Deutschlands. Series of publications for botanical knowledge (Schriftenreihe für Vegetationskunde) 28. Bonn – Bad Godesberg, Germany, Office for Nature Conservation.
Milberg, P., Andersson, L. and Thompson, K. (2000) Large-seeded species are less dependent on light for germination than small-seeded ones. Seed Science Research 10, 99104.
Otte, A. (1995) The temperature requirements of crop field herbs at the time of germination – another cause for the changes in the plant associations of crop fields (with examples from the districts of Freising and Munich, Germany). pp. 280288 in Song, Y.; Dierschke, H.; Wang, X. (Eds) Proceedings of the 35th Symposium of the International Association for Vegetation Science (Applied Vegetation Ecology). Shanghai, China, East China Normal University Press.
Otte, A., Bissels, S. and Waldhardt, R. (2006) Seed, germination and site characteristics: which parameters of arable weeds do explain the change of frequency in Germany? Journal of Plant Diseases and Protection 20, 507516.
Quinn, G.P. and Keough, M.J. (2002) Experimental design and data analysis for biologists. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.
Quintana, J.R., Cruz, A., Fernández-González, F. and Moreno, J.M. (2004) Time of germination and establishment success after fire of three obligate seeders in a Mediterranean shrubland of central Spain. Journal of Biogeography 31, 241249.
Rees, M. (1994) Delayed germination of seeds: a look at the effects of adult longevity, the timing of reproduction, and population age/stage structure. American Naturalist 144, 4364.
Rees, M. (1996) Evolutionary ecology of seed dormancy and seed size. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London B 351, 12991308.
Rees, M. and Long, M.J. (1992) Germination biology and the ecology of annual plants. American Naturalist 139, 484508.
Rice, K.J. (1990) Reproductive hierarchies in Erodium: effects of variation in plant density and rainfall distribution. Ecology 71, 13161322.
Rühl, A.T., Eckstein, R.L., Otte, A. and Donath, T. (2016) Distinct germination response of endangered and common arable weeds to reduced water potential. Plant Biology 18, 8390.
Schmiede, R., Ruprecht, E., Eckstein, R.L., Otte, A. and Donath, T.W. (2013) Establishment of rare flood meadow species by plant material transfer: experimental tests of threshold amounts and the effect of sowing position. Biological Conservation 159, 222229.
Schütz, W. (2000) The importance of seed regeneration strategies for the persistence of species in the changing landscape of Central Europe. Journal of Nature Conservation 9, 7383.
Simons, A.M. (2011) Modes of response to environmental change and the elusive empirical evidence for bet hedging. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 278, 16011609.
Sletvold, N. (2002) Effects of plant size on reproductive output and offspring performance in the facultative biennial Digitalis purpurea . Journal of Ecology 90, 958966.
Storkey, J., Moss, S.R. and Cussans, J.W. (2010) Using assembly theory to explain changes in a weed flora in response to agricultural intensification. Weed Science 58, 3946.
Thompson, P.A. (1973) The effects of geographical dispersal by man on the evolution of physiological races of Corncockle (Agrostemma gitagho L.). Annals of Botany 37, 413421.
Venable, D.L. and Brown, J.S. (1988) The selective interactions of dispersal, dormancy and seed size as adaptations for reducing risk in variable environments. American Naturalist 131, 360384.
Venable, D.L., Búrquez, A., Corral, G., Morales, E. and Espinosa, F. (1987) The ecology of seed heteromorphism in Heterosperma pinnatum in Central Mexico. Ecology 68, 6576.
Verdú, M. and Traveset, A. (2005) Early emergence enhances plant fitness: a phylogenetically controlled meta-analysis. Ecology 86, 13851394.
Walck, J.L., Hidayati, S.N., Dixon, K.W., Thompson, K. and Poschlod, P. (2011) Climate change and plant regeneration from seed. Global Change Biology 17, 21452161.
Weiner, J. (1990) Plant population ecology in agriculture. pp. 235262 in Carroll, C.R.; Vandermeer, J.H.; Rosset, P.M. (Eds) Agroecology. New York, McGraw-Hill.
Zhao, Y., Zhaohua, L. and He, L. (2014) Effects of saline-alkaline stress on seed germination and seedling growth of Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology 173, 16801691.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Seed Science Research
  • ISSN: 0960-2585
  • EISSN: 1475-2735
  • URL: /core/journals/seed-science-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed