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J Plant Res. 2008 Nov;121(6):547-57. doi: 10.1007/s10265-008-0183-7. Epub 2008 Aug 28.

Root growth and plant biomass in Lolium perenne exploring a nutrient-rich patch in soil.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Hachioji, Tokyo, 192-0397, Japan.


We investigated soil exploration by roots and plant growth in a heterogeneous environment to determine whether roots can selectively explore a nutrient-rich patch, and how nutrient heterogeneity affects biomass allocation and total biomass before a patch is reached. Lolium perenne L. plants were grown in a factorial experiment with combinations of fertilization (heterogeneous and homogeneous) and day of harvest (14, 28, 42, or 56 days after transplanting). The plant in the heterogeneous treatment was smaller in its mean total biomass, and allocated more biomass to roots. The distributions of root length and root biomass in the heterogeneous treatment did not favor the nutrient-rich patch, and did not correspond to the patchy distribution of inorganic nitrogen. Specific root length (length/biomass) was higher and root elongation was more extensive both laterally and vertically in the heterogeneous treatment. These characteristics may enable plants to acquire nutrients efficiently and increase the probability of encountering nutrient-rich patches in a heterogeneous soil. However, heterogeneity of soil nutrients would hold back plant growth before a patch was reached. Therefore, although no significant selective root placement in the nutrient-rich patch was observed, plant growth before reaching nutrient-rich patches differed between heterogeneous and homogeneous environments.

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