Myxospermous seed mucilage is multifunctional and is often found in seeds (or achenes) of species occupying arid environments where the trait may influence seed-dispersal and -germination of seeds. The seed mucilage may also enhance soil-water retention, −hydraulic conductivity and -stability. However, the relationship between seed mucilage quantity, seed germination and seedling traits across environmental gradients which determine water-deficit stress has not yet been ascertained. Therefore, we characterised and tested the relationship between seed mucilage quantity, water-deficit stress responses of seeds and seedlings of 36 accessions of four different Plantago species (P. albicans L., P. coronopus L., P. lagopus L. and P. anceolata L.). These were gathered from six regions across Europe, which presented environmental gradients (of rainfall and temperature), and varying soil qualities. Seed mucilage was significantly greater in seeds of accessions experiencing: highest summer temperatures; lowest summer precipitation; soils of the same warm dry regions which had greater capacity to retain water within narrow pore spaces. Under water-deficit stress, seeds with most mucilage exhibited a lower base water potential for germination, suffered least seedling mortality and exhibited the most successful seedling development. The findings indicate that seed mucilage quantity appeared as an ‘adaptive’ trait and there is a relationship between seed-mucilage quantity, seed germination plus seedling survival and development under environmental conditions of highest water-deficit stress.
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