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Plant Soil. 2000;218(1-2):159-71.

The importance of root gravitropism for inter-root competition and phosphorus acquisition efficiency: results from a geometric simulation model.

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  • 1College of Polytechnic, South China Agricultural University, P.R. China.


We have observed that low soil phosphorus availability alters the gravitropic response of basal roots in common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), resulting in a shallower root system. In this study we use a geometric model to test the hypotheses that a shallower root system is a positive adaptive response to low soil P availability by (1) concentrating root foraging in surface soil horizons, which generally have the highest P availability, and (2) reducing spatial competition for P among roots of the same plant. The growth of nine root systems contrasting in gravitropic response over 320 h was simulated in SimRoot, a dynamic three-dimensional geometric model of root growth and architecture. Phosphorus acquisition and inter-root competition were estimated with Depzone, a program that dynamically models nutrient diffusion to roots. Shallower root systems had greater P acquisition per unit carbon cost than deeper root systems, especially in older root systems. This was due to greater inter-root competition in deeper root systems, as measured by the volume of overlapping P depletion zones. Inter-root competition for P was a significant fraction of total soil P depletion, and increased with increasing values of the P diffusion coefficient (De), with root age, and with increasing root gravitropism. In heterogenous soil having greater P availability in surface horizons, shallower root systems had greater P acquisition than deeper root systems, because of less inter-root competition as well as increased root foraging in the topsoil. Root P acquisition predicted by SimRoot was validated against values for bean P uptake in the field, with an r2 between observed and predicted values of 0.75. Our results support the hypothesis that altered gravitropic sensitivity in P-stressed roots, resulting in a shallower root system, is a positive adaptive response to low P availability by reducing inter-root competition within the same plant and by concentrating root activity in soil domains with the greatest P availability.

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