Endosperm prevents toxic amounts of Zn from accumulating in the seed embryo – an adaptation to metalliferous sites in metal-tolerant Biscutella laevigata
Seed germination represents the first crucial stage in the life cycle of a plant, and the seed must contain all necessary transition elements for the development and successful establishment of the seedling. Problematically, seed development and germination are often hampered by elevated metal(loid) concentrations in industrially polluted soils, making their revegetation a challenging task. Biscutella laevigata L. (Brassicaceae) is a rare perennial pseudometallophyte that can tolerate high concentrations of trace metal elements. Yet, the strategies of this and other plant species to ensure reproductive success at metalliferous sites are poorly understood. Here we characterized several parameters of germination and used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence microscopy to investigate the spatial distribution and concentration of elements within B. laevigata seeds from two metallicolous and two non-metallicolous populations. We find that average germination time was shorter and the seed weight was lower in the metallicolous compared to the non-metallicolous populations. By allowing for at least two generations within one growth season, relatively fast germination at metalliferous sites accelerates microevolutionary processes and likely enhances the potential of metallicolous accessions to adapt to environmental stress. We also identified different strategies of elemental accumulation within seed tissues between populations. Particularly interesting patterns were observed for zinc, which was found in 6-fold higher concentrations in the endosperm of metallicolous compared to non-metallicolous populations. This indicates that the endosperm protects the seed embryo from accumulating toxic concentrations of metal(loid)s, which likely improves reproductive success. Hence, we conclude that elemental uptake regulation by the seed endosperm is associated with enhanced metal tolerance and adaptation to metalliferous environments in B. laevigata.