Root proliferation, nitrate inflow and their carbon costs during nitrogen capture by competing plants in patchy soil

David Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

91 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The responses of roots to nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich patches of soil include proliferation of laterals and stimulation of nutrient inflow (uptake rate per unit root length) within the patch. Nitrate uptake from an N-rich patch is thereby maximised and, perhaps, compensates for an uneven supply of nitrate to the whole root system. Paradoxically, the often weak correlation between root length density and N uptake found in experiments on single plants and crop monocultures suggests that root proliferation in patches has only a minor compensatory influence on N capture. This paradox was resolved when it was realised that localised root proliferation during inter-specific competition for nitrate can lead to a strong association between root length density and nitrate capture. Here, a simple model of inter-specific competition is used to estimate the stimulation in inflow required in one plant to match the N capture of a competitor that responds only by root proliferation, and to estimate associated carbon costs. The model predicts that nitrate inflow must increase proportionally more than root length density to achieve the same N capture. For example, the N capture possible with a 10% increase in root length density can be matched by increasing N inflow by anything from 20% to 20-fold, depending on the initial conditions: the faster the rate of change in root length density, the greater the required relative increase in inflow. In those terms, proliferation would seem the better option, but one that may be more costly in terms of its carbon requirement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-50
Number of pages9
JournalPlant and Soil
Volume232
Issue number1-2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2001

Keywords

  • carbon
  • heterogeneity
  • inflow
  • localised root proliferation
  • model
  • nitrate
  • respiration
  • soil
  • NUTRIENT-RICH PATCHES
  • COMPENSATORY INCREASES
  • SULFATE TRANSPORTER
  • PHOSPHATE-UPTAKE
  • GROWTH
  • EXPLOITATION
  • SYSTEMS
  • BARLEY
  • RATES
  • RESPONSES

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