Rubio, G.; Lynch, J.P.


Plant and Soil, Springer Science + Business Media, Volume 290, Issue 1/2, Netherlands, p.307-321 (2007)

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The activity of soil pathogens, competition for assimilates, and the changing availability of below-ground resources make root systems subject to a continuous and dynamic process of formation and loss of both fine and coarse roots. As hypocotyl borne roots appear later than other root classes, they may serve to functionally replace basal and primary roots lost to biotic and abiotic stress. Using common bean ( Phaseolus vulgaris L.), we conducted experiments in solution and solid media culture with treatments involving the removal of part of the root system (basal, hypocotyl borne or primary roots), phosphorus availability, and depth of seeding to test the hypothesis that there are compensation mechanisms among basal, hypocotyl borne and primary roots to cope with the loss of part of the root system. The root system was highly plastic in response to root excision, which resulted in the maintenance of below-ground biomass accumulation. In most cases, this compensation among root classeswas enough to maintain plant performance in both phosphorus sufficient and phosphorus stressed plants. Removal of a specific root class induced an increase in the growth of the remaining root classes. All root classes, but especially the primary root, contributed to the compensation mechanism in some way. Primary roots represented around 10% of the root system in control plants and this proportion increased dramatically (up to 50%) when other root classes were removed. In contrast, negligible compensatory re-growth was observed following removal of the primary root. Greater planting depth increased the production of hypocotyl borne roots at the expense of basal roots. The proportion of hypocotyl borne roots increased from 25% of the whole root system when seeds were placed at a depth of 2 cm to 30% when they were placed at 5 cm and to 38% when placed at 8 cm, with corresponding decreases in the proportion represented by basal roots. The common feature of our observations is the innate ability of the root system for its own regeneration. Total root biomass maintained strict allometric relationships with total shoot biomass in all treatments. Re-stabilization of root to shoot balance after partial root loss is governed by overall plant size following allometric relationships similar to undisturbed plants. However, the pattern of this root regeneration was not uniform since the way the three root classes compensated each other after the removal of any one of them varied among the different growth media and phosphorus supply conditions. The resulting changes in root architecture could have functional significance for soil resource acquisition.