To face future challenges in crop production dictated by global climate changes, breeders and plant researchers collaborate to develop productive crops that are able to withstand a wide range of biotic and abiotic stresses. However, crop selection is often focused on shoot performance alone, as observation of root properties is more complex and asks for artificial and extensive phenotyping platforms. In addition, most root research focuses on development, while a direct link to the functionality of plasticity in root development for tolerance is often lacking. In this paper we review the currently known root system architecture (RSA) responses in Arabidopsis and a number of crop species to a range of abiotic stresses, including nutrient limitation, drought, salinity, flooding, and extreme temperatures. For each of these stresses, the key molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the RSA response are highlighted. To explore the relevance for crop selection, we especially review and discuss studies linking root architectural responses to stress tolerance. This will provide a first step toward understanding the relevance of adaptive root development for a plant’s response to its environment. We suggest that functional evidence on the role of root plasticity will support breeders in their efforts to include root properties in their current selection pipeline for abiotic stress tolerance, aimed to improve the robustness of crops.
- Abiotic stress tolerance
- Crop breeding
- Nutrient limitation
- Root system architecture (RSA)
- Temperature stress tolerance