Does fire drive fatty acid composition in seed coats of physically dormant species?

S. J. McInnes, R. Tangney, J. J. Brophy, P. Thordarson, M. K. J. Ooi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Seed dormancy is the key driver regulating seed germination, hence is fundamental to the seedling recruitment life-history stage and population persistence. However, despite the importance of physical dormancy (PY) in timing post-fire germination, the mechanism driving dormancy-break within seed coats remains surprisingly unclear. We suggest that seed coat chemistry may play an important role in controlling dormancy in species with PY. In particular, seed coat fatty acids (FAs) are hydrophobic, and have melting points within the range of seed dormancy-breaking temperatures. Furthermore, melting points of saturated FAs increase with increasing carbon chain length. We investigated whether fire could influence seed coat FA profiles and discuss their potential influence on dormancy mechanisms.Seed coat FAs of 25 species within the Faboideae, from fire-prone and fire-free ecosystems, were identified and quantified through GC-MS. Fatty acid profiles were interpreted in the context of species habitat and interspecific variation.Fatty acid compositions were distinct between species from fire-prone and fire-free habitats. Fire-prone species tended to have longer saturated FA chains, a lower ratio of saturated to unsaturated FA, and a slightly higher relative amount of FAs compared to fire-free species.The specific FA composition of seed coats of fire-prone species indicated a potential role of FAs in dormancy mechanisms. Overall, the distinct FA composition between fire-prone and fire-free species suggests that chemistry of the seed coat may be under selection pressure in fire-prone ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-275
Number of pages8
JournalPlant Biology
Issue number2
Early online date3 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


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