The success of seedling establishment of desert plants is determined by seedling emergence response to an unpredictable precipitation regime. Sand burial is a crucial and frequent environmental stress that impacts seedling establishment on sand dunes. However, little is known about the ecological role of seed mucilage in seedling emergence in arid sandy environments. We hypothesized that seed mucilage enhances seedling emergence in a low precipitation regime and under conditions of sand burial. In a greenhouse experiment, two types of Artemisia sphaerocephala achenes (intact and demucilaged) were exposed to different combinations of burial depth (0, 5, 10, 20, 40 and 60 mm) and irrigation regimes (low, medium and high, which simulated the precipitation amount and frequency in May, June and July in the natural habitat, respectively). Seedling emergence increased with increasing irrigation. It was highest at 5 mm sand burial depth and ceased at burial depths greater than 20 mm in all irrigation regimes. Mucilage significantly enhanced seedling emergence at 0, 5 and 10 mm burial depths in low irrigation, at 0 and 5 mm burial depths in medium irrigation and at 0 and 10 mm burial depths in high irrigation. Seed mucilage also reduced seedling mortality at the shallow sand burial depths. Moreover, mucilage significantly affected seedling emergence time and quiescence and dormancy percentages. Our findings suggest that seed mucilage plays an ecologically important role in successful seedling establishment of A. sphaerocephala by improving seedling emergence and reducing seedling mortality in stressful habitats of the sandy desert environment.

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Published in PLoS One, v. 7, no. 4, p. 34597.

© 2012 Yang et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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