The process of cellular respiration is necessary for a dormant seed to stay alive and begin germination. Cellular respiration provides the seed with the necessary nutrients and the energy to sprout roots and leaves.
Seeds stay dormant until they experience the right temperature and moisture conditions to germinate. Under the right conditions, a seed absorbs water and swells, activating enzymes that increase cellular respiration. Respiration happens in the mitochondria and cytoplasm of the seed's cells.
The seed's stored food is then converted into energy. The seed's cells grow and cause the seed coat to split. The root shoot grows out of the seed coat, anchors the seed in soil, and absorbs nutrients for further growth. Without the increase in cellular respiration, the seed stays dormant. Once germination and increased cellular respiration begin, the seed cannot return to a dormant state. If the seed dehydrates or freezes at this point, it dies.
Although dormant seeds look lifeless, they maintain a slow rate of cellular respiration. Respiration is slower in cold weather than in warm weather, which is why dormant seeds survive longer in cold temperatures. Because low levels of oxygen cause slow respiration, dormant seeds also last longer in low-oxygen environments.