The effect of light, seed size and biomass removal on cotyledon reserve use and root mass allocation in Gustavia superba seedlings

Ignacio M. Barberis, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some large-seeded tree species have cotyledonary reserves that persist for months after seedling establishment. We carried out two screened growing-house experiments with seedlings of Gustavia superba (Lecythidaceae) to test hypotheses proposed to explain why cotyledons are retained. We grew seedlings from large and small seeds in sun and shade to determine if cotyledon reserves supplement photosynthetic carbon gain, and in a second experiment applied defoliation and shoot removal treatments to determine if reserves are allocated to resprout tissue. In each experiment we tracked cotyledonary resource use over time and measured the fraction of seedling biomass allocated to roots and shoots. We found no evidence that light environment, seed size or damage treatment affected the rate of cotyledon resource usage; 20% of the cotyledonary mass remained 9 wk after leaves were fully developed in both sun and shade and 25-30% of the cotyledonary mass remained 6 wk after leaf or shoot removal. Instead, cotyledon reserves appear to be slowly translocated to roots regardless of light environment or seedling damage. Once seedlings are established, lost tissue is replaced using reserves stored in roots; in high light, damaged seedlings had a lower root mass fraction (0.42) than undamaged ones (0.56) when considering the mass of tissue removed and resprout tissue combined. We conclude that cotyledon reserves are important for resprouting during early seedling emergence and establishment, but do not directly contribute to seedling growth or biomass recovery from herbivores at the post-establishment stage. Persistence of cotyledons may ultimately depend on the development of sufficient root mass for reserve reallocation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)607-617
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Resprouting
  • Seed reserves
  • Seedling growth
  • Shade tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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