Nielsen, K.; Bouma, T.; Lynch, J.; Eissenstat, D.


NEW PHYTOLOGIST, Volume 139, Issue 4, p.647-656 (1998)

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Low phosphorus availability is often a primary constraint to plant productivity in native soils. Here we test the hypothesis that root carbon costs are a primary limitation to plant growth in low P soils by assessing the effect of P availability and mycorrhizal infection on whole plant C budgets in common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). Plants were grown in solid-phase-buffered silica sand providing a constant supply of low (1 mu M) or moderate (10 mu M) P. Carbon budgets were determined weekly during the vegetative growth phase. Mycorrhizal infection in low-P plants increased the root specific P absorption rate, but a concurrent increase in root respiration consumed the increased net C gain resulting from greater P uptake. The energy content of mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal roots was similar. We propose that the increase in root respiration in mycorrhizal roots was mainly due to increased maintenance and growth respiration of the fungal tissue. Plants grown with low P availability expended a significantly larger fraction of their total daily C budget on below-ground respiration at days 21, 28 and 35 after planting (29-40 %) compared with plants grown with moderate P supply (18-25 %). Relatively greater belowground respiration in low P plants was mainly a result of their increased root:shoot ratio, although specific assimilation rate was reduced significantly at days 21 and 28 after planting. Specific root respiration was reduced over time by low P availability, by up to 40 %. This reduction in specific root respiration was due to a reduction in ion uptake respiration and growth respiration, whereas maintenance respiration was increased in low-P plants. Our results support the hypothesis that root C costs are a primary limitation to plant growth in low-P soils