Seed germination is responsive to diverse environmental, hormonal and chemical signals. Germination rates (i.e. speed and distribution in time) reveal information about timing, uniformity and extent of germination in seed populations and are sensitive indicators of seed vigour and stress tolerance. Population-based threshold (PBT) models have been applied to describe germination responses to temperature, water potential, hormones, ageing and oxygen. However, obtaining detailed data on germination rates of seed populations requires repeated observations at frequent times to construct germination time courses, which is labour intensive and often impractical. Recently, instruments have been developed to measure repeatedly the respiration (oxygen consumption) of individual seeds following imbibition, providing complete respiratory time courses for populations of individual seeds in an automated manner. In this study, we demonstrate a new approach that enables the use of single-seed respiratory data, rather than germination data, to characterize the responses of seed populations to diverse conditions. We applied PBT models to single-seed respiratory data and compared the results to similar analyses of germination time courses. We found consistent and quantitatively comparable relationships between seed respiratory and germination patterns in response to temperature, water potential, abscisic acid, gibberellin, respiratory inhibitors, ageing and priming. This close correspondence between seed respiration and germination time courses enables the use of semi-automated respiratory measurements to assess seed vigour and quality parameters. It also raises intriguing questions about the fundamental relationship between the respiratory capacities of seeds and the rates at which they proceed toward completion of germination.