Root responses to neighbouring plants in common bean are mediated by nutrient concentration rather than self/non-self recognition

Eric A. Nord, Chaochun Zhang, Jonathan P. Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations

Abstract

Plants are reported to over-proliferate roots in response to belowground competition, thereby reducing reproductive biomass. This has been cited as an instance of the 'tragedy of the commons'. Many of the studies that report this response suggest that plants can sense neighbours and discriminate between 'self' and 'non-self' roots. To test the alternate hypothesis that root responses to a neighbouring plant are mediated by resource depletion, common bean plants were supplied with the same phosphorus (P) fertiliser dose in varying rooting volumes, or with neighbouring plants separated by plastic film, nylon mesh, or no barrier to vary access to a neighbour. Phosphorus concentration, but not the presence of a neighbour or rooting volume, strongly influenced biomass allocation to roots. Root architecture was significantly altered by both neighbours and P availability. When exposed to the roots of a neighbour, plants altered the vertical and horizontal distribution of roots, placing fewer roots in soil domains occupied by roots of a neighbour. These results support the hypothesis that root responses to neighbouring plants are mediated by resource depletion by the neighbour rather than sensing of 'non-self' roots and show that the presence of a neighbour may affect root architecture without affecting biomass allocation to roots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-952
Number of pages12
JournalFunctional Plant Biology
Volume38
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science

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