Direct measurement of the seed bank age structure of a Sonoran Desert annual plant

Ken S. Moriuchi, D. Lawrence Venable, Catherine E. Pake, Todd Lange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


We describe a new approach to determining the age structure of seed banks of natural plant populations and apply it to a natural population of the Sonoran Desert winter annual, Pectocarya recurvata (Boraginaceac). Unlike other 14C techniques, tandem accelerator mass spectrometry (TAMS) counts the number of carbon isotope atoms, permitting high precision with small samples. Aboveground nuclear bomb tests caused atmospheric 14C levels to peak in 1963. Their subsequent gradual decline provides a signal for aging seed banks with TAMS. We constructed a calibration curve using seeds with known dates of production during 1980-1995, then used it to age 53 seeds sampled from a natural seed bank in 1993, at the Desert Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Seed number declined with age at an approximately exponential rate, with the oldest recovered seed having an estimated age of 5 yr (95% CI = ±2.3 yr). The seed bank age structure was judged more than adequate to buffer this population from typical fluctuations, based on an examination of 15 yr of population dynamic data. The TAMS technique has strong potential for answering a broad range of ecological and evolutionary questions requiring post-1963 age determinations and for which a several-year confidence interval is acceptable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1133-1138
Number of pages6
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2000


  • Age determination
  • Bet hedging
  • C
  • Desert annual
  • Nuclear bombs
  • Pectocarya recurvata
  • Population persistence
  • Seed bank age structure
  • Seed dormancy
  • Sonoran Desert
  • Tandem accelerator mass spectrometry (TAMS)
  • Viable seed number vs. seed age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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