No neighbour-induced increase in root growth of soybean and sunflower in mesh-divider experiments after controlling for nutrient concentration and soil volume

Bin J.W. Chen, Li Huang, Heinjo J. During, Xinyu Wang, Jiahe Wei, Niels P.R. Anten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Root competition is a key factor determining plant performance, community structure and ecosystem productivity. To adequately estimate the extent of root proliferation of plants in response to neighbours independently of nutrient availability, one should use a set-up that can simultaneously control for both nutrient concentration and soil volume at plant individual level. With a mesh-divider design, which was suggested as a promising solution for this problem, we conducted two intraspecific root competition experiments: one with soybean (Glycine max) and the other with sunflower (Helianthus annuus). We found no response of root growth or biomass allocation to intraspecific neighbours, i.e. an 'ideal free distribution' (IFD) norm, in soybean; and even a reduced growth as a negative response in sunflower. These responses are all inconsistent with the hypothesis that plants should produce more roots even at the expense of reduced fitness in response to neighbours, i.e. root over-proliferation. Our results suggest that neighbour-induced root over-proliferation is not a ubiquitous feature in plants. By integrating the findings with results from other soybean studies, we conclude that for some species this response could be a genotype-dependent response as a result of natural or artificial selection, or a context-dependent response so that plants can switch from root over-proliferation to IFD depending on the environment of competition. We also critically discuss whether the mesh-divider design is an ideal solution for root competition experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberplab020
Pages (from-to)1-7
JournalAoB PLANTS
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Game theory
  • Ideal free distribution
  • Mesh divider
  • Neighbour detection
  • Root competition
  • Tragedy of the commons

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