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Seed germination and vigor: ensuring crop sustainability in a changing climate.


In the coming decades, maintaining a steady food supply for the increasing world population will require high-yielding crop plants which can be productive under increasingly variable conditions. Maintaining high yields will require the successful and uniform establishment of plants in the field under altered environmental conditions. Seed vigor, a complex agronomic trait that includes seed longevity, germination speed, seedling growth, and early stress tolerance, determines the duration and success of this establishment period. Elevated temperature during early seed development can decrease seed size, number, and fertility, delay germination and reduce seed vigor in crops such as cereals, legumes, and vegetable crops. Heat stress in mature seeds can reduce seed vigor in crops such as lettuce, oat, and chickpea. Warming trends and increasing temperature variability can increase seed dormancy and reduce germination rates, especially in crops that require lower temperatures for germination and seedling establishment. To improve seed germination speed and success, much research has focused on selecting quality seeds for replanting, priming seeds before sowing, and breeding varieties with improved seed performance. Recent strides in understanding the genetic basis of variation in seed vigor have used genomics and transcriptomics to identify candidate genes for improving germination, and several studies have explored the potential impact of climate change on the percentage and timing of germination. In this review, we discuss these recent advances in the genetic underpinnings of seed performance as well as how climate change is expected to affect vigor in current varieties of staple, vegetable, and other crops.

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