Germination time, other plant traits and phylogeny in an alpine meadow on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet plateau


In this paper, 633 species (involving 10 classes, 48 families, 205 genera) collected from the alpine meadow on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet plateau were studied. We tested potential factors affecting variation in mean germination time (MGT), i.e., plant traits (adult longevity, dispersal mode and seed size) or phylogeny, to evaluate if these factors were independent or they had interaction. Nested ANOVA showed that taxonomic membership accounted for the majority of MGT variation (70%), and in the generalized linear model, family membership could explain independently the largest proportion of MGT variation (29%). The strong taxonomic effect suggests that MGT variation within taxonomic membership is constrained. The other plant traits could also explain MGT variation independently (1% by adult longevity and dispersal mode, respectively, and 2% by seed size). Thus, the phylogeny was an important constraint to maintain the stability of species, and we could simplify the question if we regarded the phylogeny as an individual factor, but we could not negate the adaptive significance of the relationship between other plant traits and seed MGT. In addition, a large percentage of the variance remained unexplained by our model, thus important selective factors or parameters may have been left out of this analysis. We suggest that other possible correlates may exist between seed germination time and additional ecological factors (for example, altitude, habitat and post-dispersal predation) or phylogenetic related morphological and physiological seed attributes (e.g., endosperm mass) that were not evaluated in this study.



Mean Germination Time


Generalized Linear Model


  1. Ackerley, D.D. and M.J. Donoghue. 1995. Phylogeny and ecology reconsidered. Journal of Ecology 83: 727–734.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Angevine, M.V. and B.F. Chabot. 1979. Seed germination syndromes in higher plants. In: O. Solhrig, S. Jain, G. Johnson and P. Raven (eds.), Topics in Plant Population Biology. Columbia University Press, New York. pp. 188–206.

  3. Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141:399–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Baker, H.G. 1972. Seed mass in relation to environmental conditions in California. Ecology 53:997–1010.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Baskin, C.C. and J.M. Baskin. 1998. Seeds: Ecology, Biogeography, and Evolution of Dormancy and Germination. Academic Press, San Diego, California, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Baskin, C.C., J.M. Baskin and M.A. Leek. 1993. Afterripening pattern during cold stratification of achenes of ten perennial Asteraceae from eastern Noth America, and evolutionary implications. Plant Species Biology 8:61–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Feinsinger, P. (1987) Effects of plants species on each other’s pollination: is community structure influenced? Trends. Ecol. Evol. 2: 123–126.

  8. Figueroa, J.A. and J.J. Armesto. 2001. Community-wide germination strategies in a temperate rainforest of Southern Chile: ecological and evolutionary correlates. Aust. J. Bot. 49:411–425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Garwood, N.C. 1983. Seed germination in a seasonal tropical forest in Panama: a community study. Ecological Monographs 53:159–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Grime, J.P., G. Mason, A.V. Curtis, J. Rodman, S.R. Bond, M. Mowforth, A.M. Neal and S. Shaw. 1981. A comparative study of germination characteristics in a local flora. Journal of Ecology 69:1017–1059.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Herrera, C. 1992. Interspecific variation in fruit shape: allometry, phylogeny, and adaptation todispersal agents. Ecology 73:1832–1841.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Jordano, P. 1995. Angiosperm fleshy fruits and seed dispersers: a comparative analysis of adaptation and constraints in plant-animal interactions. American Naturalist 145:163–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Jurado, E. and J. Flores. 2005. Is seed dormancy under environmental control or bound to plant traits? Journal of Vegetation Science 16:559–564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kochmer, J.P. and S.N. Handel. 1986. Constraints and competition in the evolution of flowering phenology. Ecol. Monographs 56:303–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Lanyon, S.M. 1993. Phylogenetic frameworks: towards a firmer foundation for the comparative approach. Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 49:45–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Leishman, M.R., M.Westoby and E. Jurado. 1995. Correlatesof seed size variation: a comparison among five temperate floras. Journal of Ecology 83:517–530.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Lord, J., M. Westoby and M. Leishman.1995. Seed size and phylogeny in six temperate floras: constraints, niche conservatism, and adaptation. American Naturalist 146: 349–364.

  18. Mazer, S.J. 1989. Ecological, taxonomic, and life history correlates of seed mass among Indiana dune angiosperms. Ecol. Monographs 59:153–175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. McKitrick, M.C. 1993. Phylogenetic constraint in evolutionary theory: has it any explanatory power? Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 24:307–330.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Miles, D.B. and A.L. Dunham. 1993. Historical perspectives in ecology and evolutionary biology: the use of phylogenetic comparative analyses. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 24: 587–619.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Rees, M. 1993. Trade-offs among dispersal strategies in British plants. Nature 366:150–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Smith-Ramírez, C., J.J. Armesto and J.A. Figueroa. 1998. Flowering, fruiting and seed germination in Chilean rain forest myrtaceae: ecological and phylogenetic constraints. Plant Ecology 136:119–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Thompson, K. 1987. Seed and seed banks. New Phytologist 106 (Supplement): 23–34.

  24. Venable, D.L. and J.S. Brown.1988. The selective interactions of dispersal, dormancy, and seed size as adaptations for reducing risk in variable environments. American Naturalist 131:360–384.

  25. Venable, D.L. and L.Lawlor. 1980. Delayed germination and dispersal in desert annuals: escape in space and time. Oecologia 46: 272–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Waller, D.M. 1988. Plant morphology and reproduction. In: J.L. Doust and L.L. Doust (eds.), Plant Reproductive Ecology Patterns and Strategies. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 203–207.

  27. Westoby, M., E. Jurado and M. Leishman. 1992. Comparative evolutionary ecology of seed mass. Trends. Ecol. Evol. 7:368–372.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Yokoyama, J. 1994. Molecular phylogeny and coevolution. Plant Species Biology 9: 163–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Zhang, S.T., G.Z. Du and J.K. Chen. 2004. Seed size in relation to phylogeny, growth form and longevity in a subalpine meadow on the east of the Tibetan Plateau. Folia Geobotanica 39:129–142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to H. Bu.

Rights and permissions

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bu, H., Chen, X., Wang, Y. et al. Germination time, other plant traits and phylogeny in an alpine meadow on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet plateau. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 8, 221–227 (2007).

Download citation


  • Adult longevity
  • Dispersal mode
  • Germination time
  • Linear model
  • Phylogenetics
  • Seed mass