Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2010, Vol. 34 ›› Issue (5): 578-590.DOI: 10.3773/j.issn.1005-264x.2010.05.012

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Review of research on seed heteromorphism and its ecological significance

WANG Lei1,2, DONG Ming1, HUANG Zhen-Ying1,*()   

  1. 1State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China
    2Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2009-09-02 Accepted:2009-01-25 Online:2010-09-02 Published:2010-05-01
  • Contact: HUANG Zhen-Ying


Seed heteromorphism is the production of seeds of different form or behavior by single individuals. According to the relative position of seeds on the plant, seed heteromorphism can be divided into amphicarpy and heterodiaspory. Seed heteromorphism has been reported in 26 families, 129 genera and 292 species of angiosperms. Most heteromorphic plants studied are annuals, often species in Asteraceae and Chenopodiaceae faced with stochastic environments such as arid, semiarid, desert and saline soil. Seed heteromorphism is generally considered to play an important role in escaping from the negative effect of crowding, reducing sib competition and adapting to environment by following bet-hedging strategy. We review and analyze recent advances in seed heteromorphism research, with emphases on 1) conception and types of seed heteromorphism and the species of the heteromorphic plants, 2) habitats and life types of the heteromorphic plants, 3) ecological characteristics of heteromorphic seeds, 4) theoretical model of seed heteromorphism and 5) ecological significance of seed heteromorphism. In addition, we discuss prospects for further research in this area and suggest 1) species with seed heteromorphism should be investigated and their biological characteristics should be studied and 2) the model plant of seed heteromorphism needs to be selected and ecological, physiological and molecular biological methods should be used to reveal the ontogenetic and molecular controlling mechanisms.

Key words: bet-hedging, dispersal, dormancy, germination, life history strategy, seed heteromorphism