, Volume 280, Issue 1-2, pp 101-114

Aggregative Root Placement: A Feature During Interspecific Competition in Inland Sand-Dune Habitats

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Segregation of roots is frequently observed in competing root systems. However, recently, intensified root growth in response to a neighbouring plant has been described in pot experiments [Gersani M, Brown J S, O'Brien E E, Maina G M and Abramsky Z 2001. J. Ecol. 89, 660–669]. This paper examines whether intense root growth towards a neighbour (aggregation) plays a role in competitive interactions between plant species from open nutrient-poor mid-European sand ecosystems. In a controlled field-competition experiment, root distribution patterns of intra- and interspecific pairs as well as single control plants of Corynephorus canescens, Festuca psammophila, Hieracium pilosella, Hypochoeris radicata and Conyza canadensis were investigated after one growing season. Under intraspecific competition plants tended to segregate their root systems, while under interspecific competition most species tended to aggregate roots towards their neighbours even at the expense of root development at the opposite competition-free side of the target. Preference of a root aggregation strategy over the occupation of competition-free soil in interspecific competition emphasizes the importance of contesting between individuals in relation to mere resource acquisition. It is suggested that in the presence of a competitor the plants might use root aggregation as a defensive reaction to maintain a strong competitive response and exclusive access to the resources of already occupied soil volumes.