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Rightsizing root phenotypes for drought resistance

Authors:

Jonathan P. Lynch

Source:

Journal of Experimental Botany, in press

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Abstract:

I propose that reduced root development would be advantageous for drought resistance in high-input agroecosystems. Selection regimes for crop ancestors and landraces include multiple stresses, intense competition, and variable resource distribution, which favored prolific root production, developmental plasticity in response to resource availability, and maintenance of unspecialized root tissues. High-input agroecosystems have removed many of these constraints to root function. Therefore, root phenotypes that focus on water capture at the expense of ancestral adaptations would be better suited to high-input agroecosystems. Parsimonious architectural phenotypes include fewer axial roots, reduced density of lateral roots, reduced growth responsiveness to local resource availability, and greater loss of roots that do not contribute to water capture. Parsimonious anatomical phenotypes include reduced number of cortical cell files, greater loss of cortical parenchyma to aerenchyma and senescence, and larger cortical cell size. Parsimonious root phenotypes may be less useful in low-input agroecosystems, which are characterized by multiple challenges and tradeoffs for root function in addition to water capture. Analysis of the fitness landscape of root phenotypes is a complex challenge that will be aided by the development of robust functional-structural models capable of simulating the dynamics of root-soil interactions.