Comparison of the crop species Brassica napus and wild B. rapa: characteristics relevant for building up a persistent seed bank in the soil.
Can seed characters be used for predicting the presence of a persistent seed bank in the field? We address this question using ten cultivars of the crop Brassica napus, ten feral B. napus accessions originating from seeds collected in the field and nine accessions of the closely related ruderal species Brassica rapa. When buried for a year in the field, seeds of the wild B. rapa displayed, as expected, much higher survival fractions than those of domesticated B. napus at two different locations in The Netherlands. Compared to B. napus, B. rapa produces relatively small seeds with high levels of aliphatic glucosinolates and a thick seed coat. However, within each species none of these characters correlated with seed survival in the soil. At low temperatures, B. rapa seeds had lower and more variable germination fractions than those of B. napus; a small fraction (4.6%) of the B. rapa seeds showed primary dormancy. Rather surprisingly, B. napus displayed genetic differences in germination at low temperature, and germination fractions at 5°C correlated negatively with seed survival in the soil. Our comparisons between and within the two species suggest that foregoing germination at low temperatures is an important character for developing a persistent seed bank. We discuss our results in light of environmental risk assessment of genetically modified B. napus.