Skip to main content Accessibility help

Exploring seed longevity of UK native trees: implications for ex situ conservation

  • Rachael M. Davies (a1), Alice R. Hudson (a1), John B. Dickie (a1), Charlotte Cook (a2), Tom O'Hara (a3) and Clare Trivedi (a1)...


UK trees require increased conservation efforts due to sparse and fragmented populations. Ex situ conservation, including seed banking, can be used to better manage these issues. We conducted accelerated ageing tests on seeds of 22 UK native woody species, in order to assess their likely longevity and optimize their conservation in a seed bank. Germination at four ageing time points was determined to construct survival curves, and it was concluded that multiple samples within a species showed comparable responses for most species tested, except for Fraxinus excelsior. Of all species studied, one could be classified as very short-lived, four as short-lived and 17 as medium, with none exceeding the medium category. The most important finding of this manuscript is that although some taxonomic trends were observed, the results indicate the need for caution when making broad conclusions on potential seed storage life at a species, genus or family level. Longevity predictions were compared to actual performance of older collections held in long-term storage at the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew. Although most collections remain high in viability in storage after more than 20 years, for short-lived species at least, there is some indication that accelerated ageing predicts longevity in seed bank conditions. For species with reduced potential longevity, such as Fagus sylvatica and Ulmus glabra, additional storage options are recommended for long-term gene banking.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Rachael M. Davies, E-mail:


Hide All
Ali, N, Probert, R, Hay, F, Davies, H and Stuppy, W (2007) Post-dispersal embryo growth and acquisition of desiccation tolerance in Anemone nemorosa L. seeds. Seed Science Research 17, 155.
Ballesteros, D and Walters, C (2011) Detailed characterization of mechanical properties and molecular mobility within dry seed glasses: relevance to the physiology of dry biological systems. Plant Journal 68, 607619.
Chmielarz, P (2007) Kriogeniczne przechowywanie nasion leśnych drzew liściastych z kategorii orthodox I suborthodox (intermediate). Poland, Bogucki Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
Chmielarz, P (2009) Cryopreservation of dormant European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) orthodox seeds. Tree Physiology 29, 12791285.
Chmielarz, P (2010a) Cryopreservation of orthodox seeds of Alnus glutinosa. Cryoletters 31, 139146.
Chmielarz, P (2010b) Cryopreservation of dormant orthodox seeds of European hornbeam Carpinus betulus. Seed Science and Technology 38, 146157.
Chmielarz, P (2010c) Cryopreservation of conditionally dormant orthodox seeds of Betula pendula. Acta Physiologiae Plantarum 32, 591596.
Chmielarz, P (2010d) Cryopreservation of the non-dormant orthodox seeds of Ulmus glabra. Acta Biologica Hungarica 61, 224233.
Coker, LT, Rozsypálek, J, Edwards, A, Harwood, TP, Butfoy, L and Buggs, RJA (2019) Estimating mortality rates of European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) under the ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) epidemic. Plants, People, Planet 1, 4858.
Colville, L and Pritchard, HW (2019) Seed life span and food security. New Phytologist 224, 557562.
CPC (2018) CPC best plant conservation practices to support species survival in the wild. Available at: (accessed 13 December 2019).
Davies, RM, Di Sacco, A and Newton, R (2015a) Germination testing: procedures and evaluation. Technical Information Sheet_13a. Ardingly, UK, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Davies, RM, Di Sacco, A and Newton, R (2015b) Germination testing: environmental factors and dormancy-breaking treatments. Technical Information Sheet_13b. Ardingly, UK, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Davies, RM, Newton, RJ, Hay, FR and Probert, RJ (2016) 150-seed comparative longevity protocol – a reduced seed number screening method for identifying short-lived seed conservation collections. Seed Science and Technology 44, 569584.
Daws, MI, Garwood, NC and Pritchard, HW (2006) Prediction of desiccation sensitivity in seeds of woody species: a probabilistic model based on two seed traits and 104 species. Annals of Botany 97, 667674.
Defra (2018) Tree Health Resilience Strategy: building the resilience of our trees, woods and forests to pests and diseases. Available at: (accessed 13 December 2019).
Defra (2019) Conserving our ash trees and mitigating the impacts of pests and diseases of ash: a vision and high level strategy for ash research. Available at: (accessed 13 December 2019).
Ellis, R and Roberts, E (1980) Improved equations for the prediction of seed longevity. Annals of Botany 45, 1330.
Ellis, R and Roberts, E (1985) Handbook of seed technology for genebanks. Volume 1. Principle and methodology. Rome, International Board for Plant Genetic Resources.
Ellis, RH, Hong, TD and Roberts, EH (1990) An intermediate category of seed storage behaviour? I. Coffee. Journal of Experimental Botany 41, 11671174.
Eurostat (2015) Land cover statistics. Retrieved from: (accessed 17 January 2019).
FAO (2014) Genebank standards for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Available at: (accessed 17 December 2019).
Forest Research (2018) Forestry statistics. Retrieved from IFOS-Statistics, Forest Research, 231 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, EH12 7AT: (accessed 17 January 2019).
Gargiulo, R, Saubin, M, Rizzuto, G, West, B, Fay, MF, Kallow, S and Trivedi, C (2019) Genetic diversity in British populations of Taxus baccata L.: is the seedbank collection representative of the genetic variation in the wild? Biological Conservation 233, 289297.
Gosling, P (1991) Beechnut storage: a review and practical interpretation of the scientific literature. Forestry 64, 5159.
Hamston, TJ, de Vere, N, King, RA, Pellicer, J, Fay, MF, Cresswell, JE and Stevens, JR (2018) Apomixis and hybridization drives reticulate evolution and phyletic differentiation in Sorbus L.: implications for conservation. Frontiers in Plant Science 9, 1796.
Harrington, JF (1970) Seed and pollen storage for conservation of plant gene resources, pp. 501522in Frankel, OH and Bennett, E (Eds) Genetic resources in plants: their exploration and conservation. IBP Handbook No 11. Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications.
Hay, FR and Probert, RJ (1995) Seed maturity and the effects of different drying conditions on desiccation tolerance and seed longevity in Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea L.). Annals of Botany 76, 639647.
Hay, FR and Probert, RJ (2013) Advances in seed conservation of wild plant species: a review of recent research. Conservation Physiology 1, 11.
Hay, FR and Whitehouse, KJ (2017) Rethinking the approach to viability monitoring in seed genebanks. Conservation Physiology 5, cox009.
Hay, F, Klin, J and Probert, R (2006) Can a post-harvest ripening treatment extend the longevity of Rhododendron L. seeds? Scientia Horticulturae Amsterdam 111, 8083.
Hay, FR, Mead, A and Bloomberg, M (2014) Modelling seed germination in response to continuous variables: use and limitations of probit analysis and alternative approaches. Seed Science Research 24, 165186.
Hoban, S, Kallow, S and Trivedi, C (2018) Implementing a new approach to effective conservation of genetic diversity, with ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in the UK as a case study. Biological Conservation 225, 1021.
Hong, TD, Linington, SH and Ellis, RH (1998) Compendium of information on seed storage behaviour. vol. I. Ardingly, UK, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
IPF (2012) The independent panel on Forestry Final Report 2012. Available at: (accessed 17 December 2019).
Kalemba, EM, Janowiak, F and Pukacka, S (2009) Desiccation tolerance acquisition in developing beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) seeds: the contribution of dehydrin-like protein. Trees – Structure and Function 23, 305315.
Kallow, S and Trivedi, C (2017) Collecting genetic variation on a small island, pp. 129136in Sniezko, RA; Man, G; Hipkins, V; Woeste, K; Gwaze, D; Kliejunas, JT and McTeague, BA (Eds) Proceedings of Workshop: Gene Conservation of Tree Species—Banking on the Future, May 1619. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-963. Portland, OR: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station 963.
Kochanek, J, Buckley, YM, Probert, RJ, Adkins, SW and Steadman, KJ (2010) Pre-zygotic parental environment modulates seed longevity. Austral Ecology 35, 837848.
Li, DZ and Pritchard, HW (2009) The science and economics of ex situ plant conservation. Trends in Plant Science 14, 614621.
Logan, SA, Phuekvilai, P and Wolff, K (2015) Ancient woodlands in the limelight: delineation and genetic structure of ancient woodland species Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllos (Tiliaceae) in the UK. Tree Genetics and Genomes 11, 52.
Long, RL, Gorecki, MJ, Renton, M, Scott, JK, Colville, L, Goggin, DE, Commander, LE, Westcott, DA, Cherry, H and Finch-Savage, WE (2015) The ecophysiology of seed persistence: a mechanistic view of the journey to germination or demise. Biological Reviews 90, 3159.
Martin, AC (1946) The comparative internal morphology of seeds. American Naturalist 36, 513660.
Merritt, DJ, Martyn, AJ, Ainsley, P, Young, RE, Seed, LU, Thorpe, M, Hay, FR, Commander, LE, Shackelford, N, Offord, CA, Dixon, KW and Probert, RJ (2014) A continental-scale study of seed lifespan in experimental storage examining seed, plant, and environmental traits associated with longevity. Biodiversity and Conservation 23, 10811104.
Michalak, M, Plitta-Michalak, BP and Chmielarz, P (2015) Desiccation tolerance and cryopreservation of wild apple (Malus sylvestris) seeds. Seed Science and Technology 43, 480491.
Mondoni, A, Probert, RJ, Rossi, G, Vegini, E and Hay, FR (2011) Seeds of alpine plants are short lived: implications for long-term conservation. Annals of Botany 107, 171179.
MSB (2015) The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership Seed Conservation Standards for ‘MSB Partnership collections’. Available at: (accessed 17 December 2019).
Nagel, M, Seal, CE, Colville, L, Rodenstein, A, Un, S, Richter, J, Pritchard, HW, Börner, A and Kranner, I (2019) Wheat seed ageing viewed through the cellular redox environment and changes in pH. Free Radical Research 53, 641654.
Nuc, K, Marszalek, M and Pukacki, PM (2016) Cryopreservation changes the DNA methylation of embryonic axes of Quercus robur and Fagus sylvatica seeds during in vitro culture. Trees – Structure and Function 30, 18311841.
Oddou-Muratorio, S, Klein, EK and Austerlitz, F (2005) Pollen flow in the wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis (L.) Crantz. II. Pollen dispersal and heterogeneity in mating success inferred from parent-offspring analysis. Molecular Ecology 14, 44414452.
Poulsen, KM (1993) Predicting the storage life of beech nuts. Seed Science and Technology 21, 327337.
Poulsen, KM and Knudsen, H (1999) Viability constants based on eight years storage of beech nuts (Fagus sylvatica L.). Seed Science and Technology 27, 10371039.
Pritchard, HW, Moat, JF, Ferraz, JB, Marks, TR, Camargo, JLC, Nadarajan, J and Ferraz, ID (2014) Innovative approaches to the preservation of forest trees. Forest Ecology and Management 333, 8898.
Probert, RJ, Daws, MI and Hay, FR (2009) Ecological correlates of ex situ seed longevity: a comparative study on 195 species. Annals of Botany 104, 5769.
Pukacka, S and Ratajczak, E (2007) Age-related biochemical changes during storage of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) seeds. Seed Science Research 17, 4553.
Pukacka, S, Hoffmann, SK, Goslar, J, Pukacki, PM and Wójkiewicz, E (2003) Water and lipid relations in beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) seeds and its effect on storage behaviour. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – General Subjects 1621, 4856.
R Core Team (2019) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. Available at:
Roberts, EH (1973) Predicting the storage life of seeds. Seed Science and Technology 1, 499514.
Robledo-Arnuncio, JJ and Gill, L (2005) Patterns of pollen dispersal in a small population of Pinus sylvestris L. revealed by total-exclusion paternity analysis. Heredity 94, 1322.
Roos, EE (1982) Induced genetic changes in seed germplasm during storage, pp. 409434in Khan, AA (Ed) The physiology and biochemistry of seed development, dormancy and germination. New York, Elsevier Biomedical Press.
Satyanti, A, Nicotra, AB, Merkling, T and Guja, LK (2018) Seed mass and elevation explain variation in seed longevity of Australian alpine species. Seed Science Research 28, 319331.
Sennikov, A and Kurtto, A (2017) A phylogenetic checklist of Sorbus s.l. (Rosaceae) in Europe. Memoranda Societatis pro Fauna et Flora Fennica 93, 178.
Simpson, JD, Wang, BSP and Daigle, BI (2004) Long-term seed storage of various Canadian hardwoods and conifers. Seed Science and Technology 32, 561572.
Suszka, B (1987) Storage of after-ripened seeds of European ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) in the frozen stratification medium, pp 120126in Sympozium, Sbornik Referatu, Okrasné Zahradnictvi, 60 let Zahradnickheho Výzkumu v Č eskoslovensku, Praha 18–21. August.
Sutherland, BG, Belaj, A, Nier, S, Cottrell, JE, Vaughan, SP, Hubert, J and Russell, K (2010) Molecular biodiversity and population structure in common ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) in Britain: implications from conservation. Molecular Ecology 19, 21962211.
Trivedi, C and Kallow, S (2017) Benefits and challenges for gene conservation: a view from the UK National Tree Seed Project, pp. 4447in Sniezko, RA; Man, G; Hipkins, V; Woeste, K; Gwaze, D; Kliejunas, JT and McTeague, BA (Eds) Proceedings of Workshop: Gene Conservation of Tree Species—Banking on the Future, May 16–19. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-963. Portland, OR: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station 963.
Trivedi, C, Cavers, S, Atkinson, N, Clark, J and Cottrell, J (2019) A Strategy for UK Forest Genetic Resources: protecting the UK's unique diversity of trees and shrubs. Available at: (accessed 13 December 2019).
UNEP (2014) The UK National Ecosystem Assessment: synthesis of the key findings. UK, UNEP-WCMC, LWEC.
Wager, J (1996) Changes in dormancy levels of Fraxinus excelsior L. embryos at different stages of morphological and physiological maturity. Trees 10, 177182.
Walters, C (2015a) Orthodoxy, recalcitrance and in-between: describing variation in seed storage characteristics using threshold responses to water loss. Planta 242, 397406.
Walters, C (2015b) Genebanking seeds from natural populations. Natural Areas Journal 35, 98105.
Walters, C, Wheeler, L and Stanwood, PC (2004) Longevity of cryogenically stored seeds. Cryobiology 48, 229244.
Walters, C, Walters, C, Wheeler, LM and Grotenhuis, JM (2005) Longevity of seeds stored in a genebank: species characteristics. Seed Science Research 15, 120.
Walters, C, Ballesteros, D and Vertucci, VA (2010) Structural mechanics of seed deterioration: standing the test of time. Plant Science 179, 565573.
Wang, BSP (1974) Tree seed storage. Department of the Environment, Canadian Forest Service, Publication No. 1335.
WCVP (2020) World checklist of vascular plants, version 2.0. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available at: (accessed 18 February 2020).
Woodland Trust (2011) The state of the UK's forests, woods and trees: perspectives from the sector. Available at: (accessed 13 December 2019).


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Davies et al. supplementary material
Table S1

 Word (18 KB)
18 KB

Exploring seed longevity of UK native trees: implications for ex situ conservation

  • Rachael M. Davies (a1), Alice R. Hudson (a1), John B. Dickie (a1), Charlotte Cook (a2), Tom O'Hara (a3) and Clare Trivedi (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.