In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Seed Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • History
  • Seed Size
  • Seed Heteromorphism
  • Effects of the Parent Environment
  • Impacts of Climate Change

Ecology Seed Ecology
Mark K.J. Ooi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0086


Seeds play a critical role in plant ecology and are fundamental to population persistence and in determining plant community diversity. Seed ecology is the study of seeds and how they interact with their natural environment. This encompasses many areas of seed biology, including dispersal, dormancy, the seed bank, germination, and seedling recruitment. Seeds have been a topic of study since ancient times, driven by the development of agriculture. Early modern-day interest in seed biology continued along this agricultural theme, where emphasis was placed on goals such as seed quality. The relatively recent recognition of the role that seeds play in controlling plant population dynamics, led by some of the most important figures in plant ecology, ensured that more emphasis was placed on the ecological aspects of seeds. The field has now moved on to address descriptive, functional, and evolutionary aspects. However, despite considerable advances in our knowledge of seeds in the environment, many key aspects of seed ecology remain largely unexplained. For example, the fraction of the soil seed bank that germinates under any given conditions can vary by orders of magnitude, at times apparently independent of seed bank size, while interspecific variation in seed persistence remains largely unexplained. In the early 21st century, seed ecology research is dominated by the search for a mechanistic understanding of seed-related life-history stages and how they may apply to population persistence in the future, particularly under threats from processes such as climate change. Additionally, considerable research effort is being invested in attempts to answer questions relating to the evolution of seed traits, such as seed size and seed dormancy.

General Overviews

Despite the relatively recent development of the study of seed biology in an ecological context, several textbooks dedicated to seed ecology have been produced. The first monograph, Fenner 1985, provided a solid foundation on the core topics of the discipline, which was expanded on in a later volume (Fenner and Thompson 2005). One of the most popular textbooks devoted to the field is Baskin and Baskin 1998, which provides both a thorough overview—with emphasis on the subjects of seed dormancy (including dormancy classification), biogeography, and evolution—and an extensive reference resource. Some good edited volumes include chapters with a focus on seed ecology (e.g., Heydecker 1973 and Fenner 2000). With the exception of seed dispersal, many earlier introductory textbooks on ecology tend to overlook seed ecology. However, there are some, such as Begon, et al. 2006, that provide a good overview of the subject. Introductory textbooks focused on plant ecology, such as Silvertown and Charlesworth 2001, are more inclusive.

  • Baskin, C. C., and J. M. Baskin. 1998. Seeds: Ecology, biogeography, and evolution of dormancy and germination. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    Provides a solid introduction to many of the key aspects of seed ecology. Presents a strong conceptual framework for dormancy classification, covering subjects ranging from experimental methodology for assessing dormancy to seed banks and the evolution of dormancy types. Also provides an exhaustive bibliography that, although now slightly dated, is a valuable resource. A new edition is due out in 2014.

  • Begon, M., C. R. Townsend, and J. L. Harper. 2006. Ecology: From individuals to ecosystems. 4th ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A good, general, introductory ecology textbook suitable for undergraduate students. Covers subjects including seed banks, dispersal, seed predation, and seed size.

  • Bewley, J. D., and M. Black. 1994. Seeds: Physiology of development and germination. 2d ed. Language of Science. New York: Plenum.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4899-1002-8

    One of the standard texts on germination. Although now slightly dated, this monograph provides a thorough overview of many of the key concepts required for understanding the physiology and mechanisms of dormancy and germination.

  • Black, M., J. D. Bewley, and P. Halmer, eds. 2006. The encyclopedia of seeds: Science, technology and uses. Wallingford, UK: CABI.

    Although not a dedicated ecology volume, various aspects of seed ecology are included, as well as a great deal of relevant seed physiology and biochemistry in an accessible form.

  • Fenner, M. 1985. Seed ecology. Outline Studies in Ecology. London: Chapman & Hall.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-4844-0

    The first monograph dedicated entirely to seed ecology, with much of the work still relevant today. Although this edition is still worth reading, an updated edition was is Fenner and Thompson 2005.

  • Fenner, M., ed. 2000. Seeds: The ecology of regeneration in plant communities. 2d ed. Wallingford, UK: CABI.

    DOI: 10.1079/9780851994321.0000

    An edited volume with a number of excellent papers on various subjects, including the role of temperature in dormancy and germination control, fire and regeneration, and the evolutionary ecology of seed size.

  • Fenner, M., and K. Thompson. 2005. The ecology of seeds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511614101

    A well-written and succinct introduction to the subject, suitable for all levels of researcher. Chapters follow the seed life cycle from production to germination. Addresses critical concepts, including seed size relationships and the impacts of climate change.

  • Heydecker, W., ed. 1973. Seed ecology: Proceedings of the nineteenth Easter School in Agricultural Science, University of Nottingham, 1972. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

    An early edited volume from the conference proceedings of the nineteenth Easter School in Agricultural Science, held at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. Includes chapters on key subjects, including the relationship between temperature and field germination, maternal environmental effects on seed traits, and local adaptation.

  • Silvertown, J. W., and D. Charlesworth. 2001. Introduction to plant population biology. 4th ed. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

    This introductory textbook focuses on key drivers of plant population dynamics, including dispersal, the seed bank, and seed size variation, as well as evolutionary questions relevant to plants.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.