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Longevity of seeds stored in a genebank: species characteristics

  • Christina Walters (a1), Lana M. Wheeler (a1) and Judith M. Grotenhuis (a1)

Seeds of different species are believed to have characteristic shelf lives, although data confirming this are scarce, and a mechanistic understanding of why this should be remains elusive. We have quantified storage performance of c. 42,000 seed accessions, representing 276 species, within the USDA National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) collection, as well as a smaller experiment of 207 cultivars from 42 species. Accessions from the NPGS collection were harvested between 1934 and 1975, and had relatively high initial germination percentages that decreased at a variable rate during storage at both 5 and –18°C. Germination time courses, which represent the average performance of the species, were fitted to Avrami kinetics, to calculate the time at which germination characteristically declined to 50% (P50). These P50 values correlated with other longevity surveys reported in the literature for seeds stored under controlled conditions, but there was no correlation among these studies and seed persistence observed in the classic buried seed experiment by Duvel. Some plant families had characteristically short-lived (e.g. Apiaceae and Brassicaceae) or long-lived (e.g. Malvaceae and Chenopodiaceae) seeds. Also, seeds from species that originated from particular localities had characteristically short (e.g. Europe) or long (e.g. South Asia and Australia) shelf lives. However, there appeared to be no correlation between longevity and dry matter reserves, soluble carbohydrates and parameters relating to soil persistence or resource allocation. Although data from this survey support the hypothesis that some species tend to survive longer than others in a genebank environment, there is little information on the attributes of the seed that affect its storage performance.

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Seed Science Research
  • ISSN: 0960-2585
  • EISSN: 1475-2735
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