In the model species Arabidopsis thaliana phytochromes mediate dormancy and germination responses to seasonal cues experienced during seed maturation on the maternal plants. However, the effect of the maternal light environment on seed germination in native wild species has not been well studied. This is particularly important given its practical application in the context of environmental restoration, when there can be marked changes in the canopy. Plants of Primula vulgaris were grown in the field over two vegetative seasons under four shading treatments from low to high ratio of red to far-red light (R:FR). Leaf and seed traits were assessed in response to the light treatments. The germination of seeds from these four maternal environments (pre-dispersal) was investigated at seven light and five temperature treatments (post-dispersal). Thinner leaves, larger leaf area and greater chlorophyll content were found in plants growing in reduced R:FR. Shading in the maternal environment led to increased seed size and yield, although the conditions experienced by the maternal plants had no effect on seed germination. Seeds responded strongly to the cues experienced in their immediate germination environment. Germination was always enhanced under higher R:FR conditions. The observed phenotypic trait variation plays a major role in the ability of P. vulgaris to grow in a wide range of light conditions. However, the increased germination capacity in response to a higher R:FR for all maternal environments suggests potential for seedling establishment under vegetative shade only in the presence of canopy gaps.
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