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Journal Article

Rapid physiological adjustment of roots to localized soil enrichment

Authors: Jackson, RB, JH Manwaring, MM Caldwell

Soil microsites rich in available nutrients are an important source of mineral nutrients for plants in many environments. Patchiness in nutrient availability below ground is analogous to resource availability in canopy gaps above ground. Although the physiological changes occurring in leaves exposed to sun and shade in canopy gaps are well known, we do not know any studies that show similar physiological changes in roots in enriched soil patches. Here we present evidence of large and rapid increases in the uptake kinetics of plant roots after creating nutrient-rich soil patches in the field. The mean rate of phosphate uptake at a given external phosphate concentration increased by as much as 80% for roots from enriched soil patches compared with roots of control patches treated with distilled water. The changes took place within days of patch treatment. This degree of plasticity was particularly notable for plants growing in soils of very low available phosphorus. These results showing rapid physiological plasticity of roots in fertile soil microsites have important implications for the theory and modelling of nutrient uptake in all soils.
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