OPT-ing out: Root−shoot dynamics are caused by local resource capture and biomass allocation, not optimal partitioning

David Robinson* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Combining plant growth analysis with a simple model of local resource capture and biomass allocation applied to exemplary experimental data, showed that dynamic changes in allocation to roots when nutrients are scarce is caused by disparities in growth rates between roots and shoots. Whole-plant growth rates also change but are not caused by an adaptive allocation response. Allocation and whole-plant growth rate are interdependent, not independent, traits. Following a switch in nutrient availability or partial biomass removal, convergence of allocation and growth rate trajectories does not reflect goal-seeking behaviour, but the constraints imposed by finite resource availability. Optimal root−shoot allocations are unnecessary to maximise whole-plant growth rate. Similar growth rates are attainable with different allocations. Changes in allocation cannot maintain or restore a superior whole-plant growth rate. Roots and shoots do not have to be tightly coordinated but can operate semiautonomously, as their modular construction permits. These findings question the plausibility of the prevailing general explanation of plants' root-shoot allocation responses, ‘optimal partitioning theory’ (OPT). Local allocation models, not OPT, explain the origins of variability in root−shoot trade-offs in individuals, the allocation of biomass at global and ecosystem scales and inform selection for allocation plasticity in crop breeding.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalPlant, Cell Environment
Early online date7 Nov 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Nov 2022


  • balanced growth
  • Hordeum
  • modularity
  • Petunia
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • physiological coordination
  • plant-environment interaction
  • plant growth analysis
  • temporal dynamics


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