Trait-based approaches have improved our understanding of plant evolution, community assembly and ecosystem functioning. A major challenge for the upcoming decades is to understand the functions and evolution of early life-history traits, across levels of organization and ecological strategies. Although a variety of seed traits are critical for dispersal, persistence, germination timing and seedling establishment, only seed mass has been considered systematically. Here we suggest broadening the range of morphological, physiological and biochemical seed traits to add new understanding on plant niches, population dynamics and community assembly. The diversity of seed traits and functions provides an important challenge that will require international collaboration in three areas of research. First, we present a conceptual framework for a seed ecological spectrum that builds upon current understanding of plant niches. We then lay the foundation for a seed-trait functional network, the establishment of which will underpin and facilitate trait-based inferences. Finally, we anticipate novel insights and challenges associated with incorporating diverse seed traits into predictive evolutionary ecology, community ecology and applied ecology. If the community invests in standardized seed-trait collection and the implementation of rigorous databases, major strides can be made at this exciting frontier of functional ecology.