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Oecologia. 2007 Aug;153(1):145-52. Epub 2007 Apr 20.

Root foraging traits and competitive ability in heterogeneous soils.

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Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, MA 02747, USA.


The responses of plant roots to nutrient patches in soil may be an important component of competitive ability. In particular, the scale, precision, and rate of foraging for patchy soil resources may influence competitive ability in heterogeneous soils. In a target-neighbor experiment in the field, per-individual and per-gram competitive effects were measured for six old-field species with known root foraging scale, precision, and rate. The presence and number of nutrient patches were also manipulated in a full factorial design. Number and presence of patches did not influence the outcome of competition. Competitive ability was not related to total plant size, growth rate, or root:shoot allocation, or to root foraging precision. Per-individual competitive effects were marginally correlated with root foraging scale (biomass of roots) and root foraging rate (time required to reach a patch). Therefore, competitive ability was more closely related to ability to quickly fill a soil volume with roots than to ability to preempt resource-rich patches.

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