Methods of studying field germination and seedling physiology: present potential and drawbacks
Seed germination and seedling growth are equally important processes for population survival. Observation of germinating orchid seeds in a natural substrate is inhibited by their minute size. There are basically two approaches to studying germination in situ: Search for spontaneous seedlings, and field sowing experiments; these may be supplemented with experiments in vitro. Finds of spontaneous seedlings are clearly irregular and fortuitous but may yield valuable, if fragmentary, input to hypothesis building. An understanding of the habitat dynamic may be helpful in the search of such seedlings. The seed package technique for germination in situ and its various adaptations can yield considerable information concerning spatial distribution and timing, identity of participating fungi, seedling growth rate and stimulatory environmental conditions. This approach constitutes the backbone to studies of germination ecology and still holds much unexplored potential. However, conditions that are suitable for orchid seed germination in nature are not necessarily identical to those supporting adult plant growth. Experiments in vitro on artificial substrate normally employs either immature or strongly surface sterilized seeds, and thus the results can be misleading regarding the behavior of natural seeds and seedlings in the field. However, such experiments may be designed for added information on specific questions, provided that growth conditions are manipulated suitably. Experiments in vitro, especially symbiotic and on series of minimal media, have much to offer in supporting and extending field observations of substrate and site preferences.
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