Accounting for variability when resurrecting dormant propagules substantiates their use in eco-evolutionary studies
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There has been a steady rise in the use of dormant propagules to study biotic responses to environmental change over time. This is particularly important for organisms that strongly mediate ecosystem processes, as changes in their traits over time can provide a unique snapshot into the structure and function of ecosystems from decades to millennia in the past. Understanding sources of bias and variation is a challenge in the field of resurrection ecology, including those that arise because often-used measurements like seed germination success are imperfect indicators of propagule viability. Using a Bayesian statistical framework, we evaluated sources of variability and tested for zero-inflation and overdispersion in data from 13 germination trials of soil-stored seeds of Schoenoplectus americanus, an ecosystem engineer in coastal salt marshes in the Chesapeake Bay. We hypothesized that these two model structures align with an ecological understanding of dormancy and revival: zero-inflation could arise due to failed germinations resulting from inviability or failed attempts to break dormancy, and overdispersion could arise by failing to measure important seed traits. A model that accounted for overdispersion, but not zero-inflation, was the best fit to our data. Tetrazolium viability tests corroborated this result: most seeds that failed to germinate did so because they were inviable, not because experimental methods failed to break their dormancy. Seed viability declined exponentially with seed age and was mediated by seed provenance and experimental conditions. Our results provide a framework for accounting for and explaining variability when estimating propagule viability from soil-stored natural archives which is a key aspect of using dormant propagules in eco-evolutionary studies.
Vahsen, Megan L.; Gentile, Rachel M.; Summers, Jennifer L.; Kleiner, Helena S.; Foster, Benjamin; McCormack, Regina M.; James, Evan W.; Koch, Rachel A.; Metts, Dailee L.; Saunders, Colin; Megonigal, James Patrick; Blum, Michael J.; and McLachlan, Jason S., "Accounting for variability when resurrecting dormant propagules substantiates their use in eco-evolutionary studies" (2021). All Faculty. 243.