Root responses to neighboring plants in common bean are mediated by local nutrient depletion rather than self/non-self recognition

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Journal Article


Nord, E.A.; Zhang, C.C.; Lynch, J.P.


Functional Plant Biology (In Press)

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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 hypotheses that root responses to a neighbouring plant are mediated by resource depletion, common bean plants were supplied with the same P fertilizer 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.