Root architectural tradeoffs for water and phosphorus acquisition

Melissa D. Ho, Juan Carlos Rosas, Kathleen M. Brown, Jonathan P. Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

317 Scopus citations


Root architectural traits that increase topsoil foraging are advantageous for phosphorus acquisition but may incur tradeoffs for the acquisition of deep soil resources such as water. To examine this relationship, common bean genotypes contrasting for rooting depth were grown in the field and in the greenhouse with phosphorus stress, water stress and combined phosphorus and water stress. In the greenhouse, water and phosphorus availability were vertically stratified to approximate field conditions, with higher phosphorus in the upper layer and more moisture in the bottom layer. Under phosphorus stress, shallow-rooted genotypes grew best, whereas under drought stress, deep-rooted genotypes grew best. In the combined stress treatment, the best genotype in the greenhouse had a dimorphic root system that permitted vigorous rooting throughout the soil profile. In the field, shallow-rooted genotypes surpassed deep-rooted genotypes under combined stress. This may reflect the importance of early vegetative growth in terminal drought environments. Our results support the hypothesis that root architectural tradeoffs exist for multiple resource acquisition, particularly when resources are differentially localised in the soil profile. Architectural plasticity and root dimorphism achieved through complementary growth of distinct root classes may be important means to optimise acquisition of multiple soil resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)737-748
Number of pages12
JournalFunctional Plant Biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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