Extending Plant Defense Theory to Seeds

James W. Dalling, Adam S. Davis, A. Elizabeth Arnold, Carolina Sarmiento, Paul Camilo Zalamea

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Plant defense theory explores how plants invest in defenses against natural enemies but has focused primarily on the traits expressed by juvenile and mature plants. Here we describe the diverse ways in which seeds are chemically and physically defended. We suggest that through associations with other traits, seeds are likely to exhibit defense syndromes that reflect constraints or trade-offs imposed by selection to attract dispersers, enable effective dispersal, ensure appropriate timing of seed germination, and enhance seedling performance. We draw attention to seed and reproductive traits that are analogous to defense traits in mature plants and describe how the effectiveness of defenses is likely to differ at pre- and postdispersal stages. We also highlight recent insights into the mutualistic and antagonistic interactions between seeds and microbial communities, including fungi and endohyphal bacteria, that can influence seed survival in the soil and subsequent seedling vigor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-141
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 2 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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