A Good Hiding Place

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Science  08 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6124, pp. 1125
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6124.1125-b

Dormancy in seeds is a common feature of plants, allowing seeds to be dispersed and to survive through unfavorable seasons before germinating. Dormancy can be physiological, terminated by some environmental cue; or it can be physical, whereby germination is prevented by the presence of a hard outer seed coat and is only achieved when the coat is ruptured. Paulsen et al. proposed an additional or alternative explanation for the function of hard seed coats, whereby escape from seed predators (rather than facilitation of dormancy) has been the selective force behind their evolution. An experimental system was used to compare the success of hamsters in detecting buried hard and soft dimorphic seeds of legume species. Soft seeds were located more easily owing to their production of a cocktail of volatile compounds that give their presence away. The authors suggest that hard seeds, even if detected, may be able to survive a second dispersal event when re-cached or pilfered by hoarding rodents, whereas soft seeds constitute a "payment" for dispersal services. The fact that hard/soft seed dimorphism has evolved at least six times provides further support for this interpretation.

New Phytol. 10.1111/nph.12191 (2013).

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