Summary Much is known about the inter-specific distribution of life span in a wide diversity of vertebrates and in adult plants, but not for seeds, yet the functional trait seed life span underpins global agriculture, plant species conservation and seed persistence in the soil. We sourced data for five storage conditions (soil seed bank; high temperature – high humidity accelerated ageing; temperate, cooler, open storage; cool, dry, refrigerator; and cold, dry, freezer); and analysed the distribution of orthodox seed life span amongst crop and wild species. In all cases, whether for maximum known in situ life span in the soil seed bank (417 species), or for half-lives (P50s) ex situ (732 species), the distribution is right-skewed. The finding that seeds of > 50% of species are likely to have life spans ≤ 20% of the longest recorded under the same conditions has implications for future research on the evolution of seed traits and gene bank collections management.
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