Jaramillo, R.E.; Nord, E.A.; Chimungu, J.G.; Brown, K.M.; Lynch, J.P.


Annals of Botany (2013)

Special Issue: Matching Roots to Environment (Full text)

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Background and Aims Root cortical aerenchyma (RCA) increases water and nutrient acquisition by reducing the metabolic costs of soil exploration. In this study the hypothesis was tested that living cortical area (LCA; transversal root cortical area minus aerenchyma area and intercellular air space) is a better predictor of root respiration, soil exploration and, therefore, drought tolerance than RCA formation or root diameter.

Methods RCA, LCA, root respiration, root length and biomass loss in response to drought were evaluated in maize (Zea mays) recombinant inbred lines grown with adequate and suboptimal irrigation in soil mesocosms.

Key Results Root respiration was highly correlated with LCA. LCA was a better predictor of root respiration than either RCA or root diameter. RCA reduced respiration of large-diameter roots. Since RCA and LCA varied in different parts of the root system, the effects of RCA and LCA on root length were complex. Greater crown-root LCA was associated with reduced crown-root length relative to total root length. Reduced LCA was associated with improved drought tolerance.

Conclusions The results are consistent with the hypothesis that LCA is a driver of root metabolic costs and may therefore have adaptive significance for water acquisition in drying soil.

Key words Root, aerenchyma, respiration, drought, cortex, Zea mays