The ability to exploit spatial and temporal heterogeneity in soil resources can be one factor important to the competitive balance of plants. Competition aboveground may limit selective plant responses to belowground heterogeneity, since mechanisms such as root proliferation and alterations in uptake kinetics are energy-dependent processes. We studied the effects of shading on the ability of the perennial tussock grass Agropyron desertorum to take up nutrients from enriched soil microsites in two consecutive growing seasons. Roots of unshaded plants selectively increased phosphate uptake capacity in enriched soil microsites (mean increase of up to 73%), but shading eliminated this response. There were no changes in ammonium uptake capacity for roots in control and enriched patches for either shaded or unshaded plants. The 9-day shade treatments significantly reduced total nonstructual carbohydrate (TNC) concentrations for roots in 1990, but had no apparent effect on root carbohydrates in 1991 despite dramatic reductions in shoot TNC and fructan concentrations. Enrichment of the soil patches resulted in significantly greater phosphate concentrations in roots of both shaded and unshaded plants, with less dramatic differences for nitrogen and no changes in potassium concentrations. In many respects the shaded plants did surprisingly well, at least in terms of apparent nutrient acquisition. The effects of aboveground competition on nutrient demand, energy requirements, and belowground processes are discussed for plants exploiting soil resource heterogeneity.