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Root morphological responses to population density vary with soil conditions and growth stages
  • Shu Wang,
  • Lei Li,
  • Dao-Wei Zhou
Dao-Wei Zhou
Chinese Acad Sci
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How plants cope with the increase of population density via root plasticity is not well documented. Abiotic environments and plant ontogeny may play an important role in determining plant response to density and thus contribute to understanding this issue. We aimed to investigate root plasticity in response to density under contrasting soil conditions at three stages of plant growth in an annual herbaceous species Abutilon theophrasti. We conducted a field experiment by subjecting plant individuals to low, medium and high densities (13.4, 36.0 and 121.0 plants m-2, respectively) under fertile and infertile soil conditions, and a series of root traits were measured at three harvests when they had grown for 30, 50 and 70 d. Results revealed the complexity of root response to density, which may increase, decrease or canalize, depending on the strength of above- and below-ground interactions, which varied with soil conditions or growth stage. The intensity of above- and/or below-ground interactions increased with decreased soil resources, but first increased then decreased with growth stage. Facilitation is more likely to occur at low to moderate below-ground interaction, when above-ground interaction is negligible, and resources are abundant and at early stage of plant growth. Plants may prefer to adjust biomass allocation to maintain total mass stable initially, before suffering decreased total mass, in response to intraspecific interactions.