Contrasting root behaviour in two grass species: a test of functionality in dynamic heterogeneous conditions

L. Mommer, E.J.W. Visser, J. van Ruijven, H. de Caluwe, R. Pierik, H. de Kroon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


Root systems are highly plastic as they express a range of responses to acquire patchily distributed nutrients. However, the ecological significance of placing roots selectively in nutrient hotspots is still unclear. Here, we investigate under what conditions selective root placement may be a significant functional trait that determines belowground competitive ability. We studied two grasses differing in root foraging behaviour, Festuca rubra and Anthoxanthum odoratum. The plants were grown in stable and more dynamic heterogeneous environments, by switching nutrient patches halfway through the experiment. A. odoratum was a factor of two less selective in placing its roots into nutrient-rich patches than F. rubra. A. odoratum produced overall higher root length densities with higher specific root length than F. rubra and acquired more nutrients. A. odoratum appeared to be the superior competitor, irrespective of the nutrient dynamics. Our results suggest that root behaviour consisting of producing high root length densities at relatively low biomass investments can be a more effective foraging strategy than placing roots selectively in nutrient hotspots. When understanding the functionality of root traits among different species, specific root length may play a key role
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-360
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • soil nutrient heterogeneity
  • foraging traits
  • plants bother
  • rich patches
  • proliferation
  • plasticity
  • placement
  • precision
  • responses
  • growth

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