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Predicting the global incidence of seed desiccation sensitivity

ABSTRACT

The ability of seeds to tolerate desiccation plays an important role in plant regeneration ecology. Globally, the majority of species produce desiccation-tolerant (orthodox) seeds, while comparatively few produce desiccation-sensitive (recalcitrant) seeds that are unable to survive dehydration. The trait has important implications for species conservation, as desiccation-sensitive species cannot be conserved using traditional seed banking techniques. In addition, these species may be less resilient to the increases in droughts predicted for some regions under climate change scenarios.The best available resource on seed desiccation tolerance is the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's Seed Information Database. This database contains seed desiccation-sensitivity data for over 18 000 taxa, approximately 3% of which have desiccation-sensitive seeds. However, this database is likely biased towards desiccation-tolerant species. Previous attempts to estimate the proportion of seed plants with desiccation-sensitive seeds have ranged from 7% to 50%. Here, we aimed to overcome sampling bias to derive a best estimate for the proportion of seed plants with desiccation-sensitive seeds, based on current data.We used a recently developed method, based on taxonomic relatedness, to account for sampling bias and estimate the proportion of seed plants with desiccation-sensitive seeds. As a comparison, given that seed desiccation sensitivity is strongly related to habitat, we repeated our analyses using habitat as a basis.The predictions from our taxonomy-based models ranged between estimates of 7·5% and 19·6% of the world's seed-plant species with desiccation-sensitive seeds, depending on model type, while the habitat-based models suggested a value of approximately 8%. Our evidence suggests that, based on current data, the best estimate of the proportion of species with desiccation-sensitive seeds is likely to be approximately 8%. Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests had the highest incidence of seed desiccation sensitivity, where an estimated 18·5% of the seed-plant flora possessed the trait.Synthesis. Alongside our estimation of the numbers of species with desiccation-sensitive seeds, we provide data on taxa and habitats where this trait may be most prevalent. These findings can be used to support conservation planning, particularly with respect to providing decision support for in and ex situ conservation techniques.