Seed dormancy plays an important role in germination ecology and seed plant evolution. Morphological seed dormancy is caused by an underdeveloped embryo that must mature prior to germination. It has been suggested that the presence of an underdeveloped embryo is plesiomorphic among seed plants and that parallel directional change in embryo morphology has occurred separately in gymnosperms and in angiosperms. We test these hypotheses using original data on embryo morphology of key basal taxa, a published dataset, and the generalized least squares (GLS) method of ancestral character state reconstruction. Reconstructions for embryo to seed ratio (E:S) using family means for 179 families showed that E:S has increased between the ancestral angiosperm and almost all extant angiosperm taxa. Species in the rosid clade have particularly large embryos relative to the angiosperm ancestor. Results for the gymnosperms show a similar but smaller increase. There were no statistically significant differences in E:S between basal taxa and any derived group due to extremely large standard errors produced by GLS models. However, differences between reconstructed values for the angiosperm ancestor and more highly nested nodes are large and these results are robust to topological and branch-length manipulations. Our analysis supports the idea that the underdeveloped embryo is primitive among seed plants and that there has been a directional change in E:S within both angiosperms and gymnosperms. Our analysis suggests that dormancy enforced by an underdeveloped embryo is plesiomorphic among angiosperms and that nondormancy and other dormancy types probably evolved within the angiosperms. The shift in E:S was likely a heterochronic change, and has important implications for the life history of seed plants.
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Vol. 56 • No. 11