Efficiency and allometry of seed production in grassland forbs: site and year comparative study in the Italian Eastern Pre-Alps
Forbs are important biodiversity components of grasslands and are often threatened by management intensification. As most forbs propagate predominantly by seed, knowledge of their seed regenerative traits would improve the conservation and restoration of forb-rich ecosystems. The main seed production traits of six forbs that are common in European species-rich grasslands were studied by collecting fertile shoots from different sites and over several years. Among sites and years, variability was high, particularly in the number of inflorescences per shoot, which affected ovule production more than any other trait. Relationships between inflorescence size and the number of ovules were mainly negatively allometric or almost so, with lower flower densities in larger inflorescences. The average ovule-to-seed transformation efficiency was 58%. There was significant variation among collections of the same species, and even more between species. Species with a low ovule-to-seed transformation efficiency generally exhibited compensatory, high seed viability. Large inflorescences had high ovule to seed utilization values, probably because of better nutrient conditions. Seed germinability (average, 30%) was much lower than seed viability (average, 54%); therefore, seed dormancy was an important feature of the species studied.