Ecophysiological effects of light quality and nitrate on seed germination in species from Western Australia

D.T. Bell, L.A. King, Julie Plummer

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    Germination occurs usually in response to multiple environmental cues. Seeds with the ecophysiological ability to simultaneously sense the previous presence of fire and appropriate levels of temperature, light and soil nitrate could restrict germination to postfire, winter and competition-free microhabitats, where the potential for seedling survival is enhanced. Germination responses of 16 species with a range of life forms, fire responses and seed weights were determined under controlled conditions of 15 degrees C temperature, a 12 h light cycle, exposure to I g L-1 nitrate solution, and six conditions of light quality (white, blue, yellow, red, far-red light and darkness). Germination in Oenothera stricta, a weedy naturalized ephemeral, and two small-seeded indigenous Asteraceae species of mulga woodlands, Leucochrysum fitzgibbonii and Craspedia sp., were enhanced by white, yellow or red light compared with germination achieved in the dark, or under far-red or blue light. In red light, KNO3 further enhanced germination of these positively photoblastic species. The germination response of Trachyandra divaricata, a naturalized herb of sandy, seaside locations, and several native jarrah forest legumes (four Acacia species, Bossiaea aquifolium, Gompholobium marginatum and Sphaerolobium vimineum) proved to be negatively photoblastic. Of these seven negatively photoblastic herb and shrub species, exposure to KNO3 overcame the inhibition of light only in the resprouter species, Acacia lateriticola. In the serotinous, negatively photoblastic tree species, Corymbia calophylla and Eucalyptus marginata, KNO3 seemed to be required before the negative response to light exposure was recorded. A dose-curve experiment on two positively photoblastic and three negatively photoblastic species indicated that although KNO3 exposure affected germination in all species, different concentrations of KNO3 (0, 0.5, 1, 2, and 5 g L-1) produced different levels of response. Detailed studies with additions of KNO3 (1 g L-1) and the growth hormone, gibberellic acid (GA(3); 50 mg L-1), showed that increased germination percentages of the positively photoblastic species, Oenothera stricta, occurred in the light, but blocking endogenous gibberellic synthesis with paclobutrazol, or adding exogenous GA(3) or KNO3 had no effect on the light-induced germination levels. In the negatively photoblastic species Trachyandra divaricata, additions of KNO3 and GA(3) had no influence on the germination inhibition induced by exposure to light nor did blocking endogenous GA synthesis. The 16 species growing naturally in Western Australia, Australia show a range of germination responses to environmental conditions, but depending on their natural habitat, the ecophysiology of each species appears to be optimized for subsequent seedling survival.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2-10
    JournalAustralian Journal of Ecology
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


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