Hannah M. Schneider, Jonathan Lynch


Frontiers in Plant Science, 11:546. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2020.00546

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Root phenotypic plasticity has been proposed as a target for the development of more productive crops in variable environments. However, the plasticity of root anatomical and architectural responses to environmental cues is highly complex, and the consequences of these responses for plant fitness are poorly understood. We propose that root phenotypic plasticity may be beneficial in natural or low-input systems in which the availability of soil resources is spatiotemporally dynamic. Crop ancestors and landraces were selected with multiple stresses, competition, significant root loss and heterogenous resource distribution which favored plasticity in response to resource availability. However, in high-input agroecosystems, the value of phenotypic plasticity is unclear, since human management has removed many of these constraints to root function. Further research is needed to understand the fitness landscape of plastic responses including understanding the value of plasticity in different environments, environmental signals that induce plastic responses, and the genetic architecture of plasticity before it is widely adopted in breeding programs. Phenotypic plasticity has many potential ecological, and physiological benefits, but its costs and adaptive value in high-input agricultural systems is poorly understood and merits further research.