We investigated how shoot and root allocation in plants responds to increasing levels of competitive stress at different levels of soil fertility. In addition, we analyzed whether different responses were due to adaptive plasticity or should be attributed to ontogenetic drift. Plantago lanceolata plants were grown during 18 weeks at five plant densities and four nutrient supply levels in pots in the greenhouse. Thereafter root and shoot biomass was measured. There were clear negative effects of increasing plant densities on plant weights revealing strong intraspecific competition. At the lower N-treatments, the proportional allocation to root mass increased with increasing competitive stress, indicating the important role of belowground competition. At the higher N-supply rate, the relationship between competitive stress and shoot to root ratio was neutral. These responses could not be attributed to ontogenetic drift, but could only be explained by assuming adaptive plasticity. It was concluded that at lower N-supplies belowground competition dominates and leads to increased allocation to roots, while at the higher N-supply competition for soil resources and light had balanced impacts on shoot and root allocation. An alternative hypothesis explaining the observed pattern is that light competition has far less pronounced impacts on root¿shoot allocation than nutrient deprival.
- below-ground competition
- biomass allocation