Plant growth and root morphology of Phaseolus vulgaris L. grown in a split-root system is affected by heterogeneity of crude oil pollution and mycorrhizal colonization
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Response of plant performance and root properties to heterogeneous distribution of crude oil pollutants and mycorrhizal colonization is poorly understood even though (high) heterogeneity represents the normal case rather than exception in re-vegetation and phytoremediation of polluted soils. We investigated the effects of heterogeneous versus homogeneous distribution of hydrocarbon pollution (crude oil, type OMV® A) and mycorrhizal colonization on shoot and root properties of Phaseolus vulgaris L. using a split-root compartment approach in a factorial design with the main factors pollution and mycorrhiza realized in either one or both root compartments. Apart from plant responses to homogeneous pollution (e.g., decreased shoot and root biomass) or mycorrhization (e.g., larger P contents in leaves) we identified systemic interactions between split roots of heterogeneous treatments. In the absence of mycorrhiza, pollution in one root compartment resulted in locally increased root biomass and root length, and decreased root average diameter (RAD), possibly to overcome (water-)stress by better exploration of the soil volume whereas opposite effects on root biomass and length were observed in the unpolluted conjugated compartment. This systemic impact may be explained by preferential allocation of carbon by the plant to the root system in the polluted compartment on expense of the roots in the conjugated compartment. Stress indicated by decreased shoot/root biomass ratios and smaller foliar P content was not reflected in overall root and shoot biomass, likely due to sufficient supply of water and nutrient resources from the unpolluted compartment. The observed responses were not significant in the presence of mycorrhiza, indicating that mycorrhized plants were less susceptible to the observed impacts of pollutant heterogeneity. Mycorrhization in one of the conjugated compartments systemically induced shorter roots in the non-mycorrhized compartment. The resulting decrease in nutrient supply from the non-colonized roots along with increased carbon allocation to the mycorrhizal association in the conjugated compartment are likely to explain the observed overall decreases of shoot and root biomass. We conclude that heterogeneity of mycorrhizal colonization and pollutant distribution in soil can substantially change the plant response as compared to homogeneous situations studied in most pot experiments. Further studies are required to improve our understanding of mechanisms involved and to evaluate the relevance for heterogeneous field situations.