Skip to main content Accessibility help

The evolutionary correlation associated with seed mass and altitude on nutrient allocation of seeds

  • Hai-Yan Bu (a1), Yan-Ming Zhang (a1), Di Zhao (a1), Su-Yu Wang (a1), Peng Jia (a1), Wei Qi (a1), Kun Liu (a1), Dang-Hui Xu (a1), Wen-Jing Ge (a1) and Xue-Jing Wang (a1)...


Seed reserves play vital roles in seed germination and seedling growth and their variation may be related to various environment factors, plant traits and phylogenetic history. Here, the evolutionary correlation associated with seed mass and altitude and carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) allocation of seeds among 253 alpine herbaceous plants was tested. In this study, phylogeny had strong limitations on nutrient allocation of seeds across species, and species from younger phylogenetic groups tended to have higher N and P contents, which might be considered as the evolutionary selection of seed plants. Higher seed N and P content would help seedlings to gain more survival chance and stronger competitive capacity, and their progeny would be more likely to be preserved. When phylogeny was considered, altitude only had a significant positive effect on P content, but the negative effects on seed mass were all expressed. The independent effects of altitude and seed mass suggest that the nutrient allocation of seeds might be affected by both environment and plant traits. In addition, altitude and seed mass displayed partial overlapping effects on nutrient allocation of seeds. The negative effects of seed mass were affected slightly by altitude, whereas altitude only had a significant positive effect on P content when seed mass was controlled. Above all, seed P content showed obvious and general correlations with seed mass, altitude and age of clade, which indicated that higher seed P content might be an adaptive selection of species associated with growth and survival of progeny.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Hai-Yan Bu, Email:


Hide All
Baker, HG (1972) Seed weight in relation to environmental conditions in California. Ecology 53, 9971010.
Bewley, JD, Bradford, KJ, Hilhorst, HWM and Nonogaki, H (2013) Seeds: Physiology of Development, Germination and Dormancy, 3rd edn. New York, Springer.
Bu, H, Chen, X, Xu, X, Liu, K, Jia, P and Du, GZ (2007) Seed mass and germination in an alpine meadow on the eastern Tsinghai-Tibet plateau. Plant Ecology 191, 127149.
Bu, HY, Jia, P, Qi, W, Liu, K, Xu, DH, Ge, WJ and Wang, X (2018) The effects of phylogeny, life-history traits and altitude on the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus contents of seeds across 203 species from an alpine meadow. Plant Ecology 219, 737748.
Bu, HY, Wang, XJ, Zhou, XH, Chen, X, Wang, Y, Xu, X and Liu, K (2016) The ecological and evolutionary significance of seed shape and volume for the germination of 383 species on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet plateau. Folia Geobotanica 51, 333341.
Cheng, J, Cheng, X and Wang, L (2015) Physiological characteristics of seed reserve utilization during the early seedling growth in rice. Brazilian Journal of Botany 38, 19.
Dornbos, DL and Mullen, RE (1992) Soybean seed protein and oil contents and fatty acid composition adjustments by drought and temperature. Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society 69, 228231.
Elser, JJ, Acharya, K, Kyle, M, Cotner, J, Makino, W, Markow, T, Watts, T, Hobbie, S, Fagan, W, Schade, J, Hood, J and Sterner, RW (2003) Growth rate-stoichiometry couplings in diverse biota. Ecology Letters 6, 936943.
Elser, JJ, Sterner, RW, Gorokhova, E, Fagan, WF, Markow, TA, Cotner, JB, Harrison, JF, Hobbie, SE, Odell, GM and Weider, LW (2000) Biological stoichiometry from genes to ecosystems. Ecology Letters 3, 540550.
Felsenstein, J (1985) Phylogenies and the comparative method. American Naturalist 125, 115.
Frenne, PD, Kolb, A, Graae, BJ et al. (2011) A latitudinal gradient in seed nutrients of the forest herb Anemone nemorosa. Plant Biology 13, 493501.
Giménez-Benavides, L, Escudero, A and Iriondo, JM (2008) What shapes the altitudinal range of a high mountain Mediterranean plant? Recruitment probabilities from ovule to seedling stage. Ecography 31, 731740.
Grime, JP, Mason, G, Curtis, AV, Rodman, J and Band, SR (1981) A comparative study of germination characteristics in a local flora. Journal of Ecology 69, 10171059.
Grubb, PJ and Burslem, DFRP (1998) Mineral nutrient concentrations as a function of seed size within seed crops: implications for competition among seedlings and defence against herbivory. Journal of Tropical Ecology 14, 177185.
He, JS, Flynn, DFB, Wolfe-Bellin, K, Ffang, J and Bazzaz, FA (2005) CO2 and nitrogen, but not population density, alter the size and C/N ratio of Phytolacca americana seeds. Functional Ecology 19, 437444.
Ichie, T, Ninomiya, I and Ogino, K (2001) Utilization of seed reserves during germination and early seedling growth by Dryobalanops lanceolata (Dipterocarpaceae). Journal of Tropical Ecology 17, 371378.
Jackson, RB, Mooney, HA and Schulze, ED (1997) A global budget for fine root biomass, surface area, and nutrient contents. PNAS 94, 73627366.
Jia, P, Bayaerta, T, Li, X and Du, G (2011) Relationships between flowering phenology and functional traits in eastern Tibet alpine meadow. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 43, 585592.
Jordano, P (1995) Angiosperm fleshy fruits and seed dispersers: a comparative analysis of adaptation and constraints in plant-animal interactions. American Naturalist 145, 163191.
Kerkhoff, AJ, Fagan, WF, Elser, JJ and Enquist, BJ (2006) Phylogenetic and growth form variation in the scaling of nitrogen and phosphorus in the seed plants. American Naturalist 168, E103122.
Kidson, R and Westoby, M (2000) Seed mass and seedling dimensions in relation to seedling establishment. Oecologia 125, 1117.
Lamont, BB and Groom, PK (2013) Seeds as a source of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus for seedling establishment in temperate regions: a synthesis. American Journal of Plant Sciences 4, 3040.
Li, J and Yuan, J (2012) Research progress in effects of different altitude on rice yield and quality in China. Greener Journal of Agricultural Sciences 2, 340344.
Lord, JM (1994) Variation in Festuca novae-zelandiae (Hace.) Cockayne germination behaviour with altitude of seed source. New Zealand Journal of Botany 32, 227235.
Lord, J, Westoby, M and Leishman, M (1995) Seed size and phylogeny in six temperate floras: constraints, niche conservatism, and adaptation. American Naturalist 146, 349364.
Mathew, JP, Herbert, SJ, Zhang, SH, Rautenkranz, AAF and Litchfield, GV (2000) Differential response of soybean yield components to the timing of light enrichment. Agronomy Journal 92, 11561161.
McGinley, MA and Charnov, EL (1988) Multiple resources and the optimal balance between size and number of offspring. Evolutionary Ecology 2, 7784.
Nayyar, H, Bains, TS, Kumar, S and Kaur, G (2010) Chilling effects during seed filling on accumulation of seed reserves and yield of chickpea. Journal of the Science of Food & Agriculture 85, 19251930.
Nedel, JL, Ullrich, SE and Pan, WL (1996) Effect of seed size and protein content and N application timing on seedling vigor and grain yield of barley. Pesquisa Agropecuaria Brasileira 31, 113119.
Oluwatosin, OB (1997) Genetic and environmental variation of seed yield, protein, lipid and amino acid composition in cowpea (Vigna unguiculata (L) Walp). Journal of the Science of Food & Agriculture 74, 107116.
Pagel, M (1999) Inferring the historical patterns of biological evolution. Nature 401, 877884.
Paz, H and Martínezramos, M (2003) Seed mass and seedling performance within eight species of Psychotria (Rubiaceae). Ecology 84, 439450.
Peco, B, Traba, J, Levassor, C and Sánchez, AM (2003) Seed size, shape and persistence in dry Mediterranean grass and scrublands. Seed Science Research 13, 8795.
Poll, M, Naylor, BJ, Alexander, JM, Edwards, PJ and Dietz, H (2009) Seedling establishment of Asteraceae forbs along altitudinal gradients: a comparison of transplant experiments in the native and introduced ranges. Diversity & Distributions 15, 254265.
Poorter, L and Rose, SA (2005) Light-dependent changes in the relationship between seed mass and seedling traits: a meta-analysis for rain forest tree species. Oecologia 142, 378387.
Poorter, L, Wright, SJ, Paz, H, Ackerly, DD, Condit, R, Ibarra-Manríquez, G et al. (2008) Are functional traits good predictors of demographic rates? Evidence from five neotropical forests. Ecology 89, 19081920.
Qi, W, Guo, S, Chen, X et al. (2014) Disentangling ecological, allometric and evolutionary determinants of the relationship between seed mass and elevation: insights from multiple analyses of 1355 angiosperm species on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Oikos 123, 2332.
R Development Core Team (2016) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria
Reich, PB, Tjoelker, MG, Pregitzer, KS, Wright, IJ, Oleksyn, J and Machado, JL (2008) Scaling of respiration to nitrogen in leaves, stems and roots of higher land plants. Ecology Letters 11, 793801.
Rong, Q, Liu, J, Cai, Y and An, S (2015) Leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus stoichiometry of Tamarix chinensis Lour. in the Laizhou Bay coastal wetland, China. Ecological Engineering 76, 5765.
Sakla, AB, Ghali, Y, El-Farrar, A et al. (1988) The effect of environmental conditions on the chemical composition of soybean seeds: deactivation of trypsin inhibitor and effect of microwave on some components of soybean seeds. Food Chemistry 29, 269274.
Salisbury, PA, Potter, TD, Gurung, AM, Mailer, RJ and Williams, WM (2018) Potential impact of weedy Brassicaceae species on oil and meal quality of oilseed rape (canola) in Australia. Weed Research 58, 200209.
Slot, M, Palow, DT and Kitajima, K (2013) Seed reserve dependency of Leucaena leucocephala seedling growth for nitrogen and phosphorus. Functional Plant Biology 40, 244250.
Soltani, A, Gholipoor, M and Zeinali, E (2006) Seed reserve utilization and seedling growth of wheat as affected by drought and salinity. Environmental & Experimental Botany 55, 195200.
Soriano, D, Orozco-Segovia, A, Márquez-Guzmán, J, Kitajima, K, Gamboa-de Buen, A and Huante, P (2011) Seed reserve composition in 19 tree species of a tropical deciduous forest in Mexico and its relationship to seed germination and seedling growth. Annals of Botany 107, 939951.
Suda, CNK and Giorgini, JF (2000) Seed reserve composition and mobilization during germination and initial seedling development of Euphorbia heterophylla. Brazilian Journal of Plant Physiology 12, 226245.
Susko, DJ and Lovettdoust, L (2000) Patterns of seed mass variation and their effects on seedling traits in Alliaria petiolata (Brassicaceae). American Journal of Botany 87, 5666.
The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2009) An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161, 105121.
Turnbull, LA, Philipson, CD, Purves, DW et al. (2012) Plant growth rates and seed size: a re-evaluation. Ecology 93, 12831289.
Wardlaw, IF and Dunstone, RL (1984) Effect of temperature on seed development in jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis (Link) Schneider). I. Dry matter changes. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 35, 685691.
Webb, CO, Ackerly, DD and Kembel, SW (2008) Phylocom: software for the analysis of phylogenetic community structure and trait evolution. Bioinformatics 24, 20982100.
Xu, G, Singh, S, Barnaby, J, Buyer, J, Reddy, V and Sicher, R (2016) Effects of growth temperature and carbon dioxide enrichment on soybean seed components at different stages of development. Plant Physiology & Biochemistry 108, 313322.
Zhang, C, Willis, CG, Burghardt, LT et al. (2014) The community-level effect of light on germination timing in relation to seed mass: a source of regeneration niche differentiation. New Phytologist 204, 496506.
Zhang, ST, Du, GZ and Chen, JK (2004) Seed mass in relation to phylogeny, growth form and longevity in a subalpine meadow on the east of the Tibetan Plateau. Folia Geobotanica 39, 129142.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Bu et al. supplementary material

 Word (66 KB)
66 KB

The evolutionary correlation associated with seed mass and altitude on nutrient allocation of seeds

  • Hai-Yan Bu (a1), Yan-Ming Zhang (a1), Di Zhao (a1), Su-Yu Wang (a1), Peng Jia (a1), Wei Qi (a1), Kun Liu (a1), Dang-Hui Xu (a1), Wen-Jing Ge (a1) and Xue-Jing Wang (a1)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.