Plant and Soil

, Volume 371, Issue 1–2, pp 281–297 | Cite as

Shoot growth, root growth and resource capture under limiting water and N supply for two cultivars of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.)

  • P. J. KerbiriouEmail author
  • T. J. Stomph
  • P. E. L. Van Der Putten
  • E. T. Lammerts Van Bueren
  • P. C. Struik
Regular Article


Background and aims

To improve vegetable crops adapted to low input and variable resource availability, better understanding is needed of root system functioning, including nitrogen and water capture.


This study quantified shoot and root development and patterns of water and nitrate capture of two lettuce cultivars subjected to temporary drought at two development stages (Trial 1) or to continuous, localized drought and/or nitrate shortage (Trial 2).


In Trial 1, early drought slowed down shoot and root growth, whereas late drought enhanced root proliferation in the top 0.1 m. Nitrate capture during drought was sustained by increased nitrate inflow from deeper layers. Plants did not recover fully from drought after re-watering. In Trial 2, root proliferation was stimulated in the drier soil compartment partially compensating reduced water availability and nitrate mobility. Under nitrate shortage, root proliferation was enhanced in the compartment where nitrate was more abundant, irrespective of water availability.


Changes observed in the root system are ‘feed-forward’ mechanisms to sustain resource capture in a limiting growing environment. The type of stress (drought or nitrate shortage) affects coping strategies; nitrate concentration in the soil solution, combined with the nutritional status of the plant will determine the stress response.


Lettuce Resource capture Resource use efficiency Root system architecture Drought Nitrate Lactuca sativa 



Drought Stress applied in the Top compartment


Drought Stress applied in the Top compartment combined with Nutrient Stress applied in the Bottom compartment


Dry Weight (g)


Early Drought


Fresh Weight (g)




Late Drought


Nutrient Stress applied in the Top compartment


Nutrient Stress applied in the Top compartment combined with Drought Stress applied in the Bottom compartment


Nitrogen Use Efficiency (g DM g−1 N per plant)


Quantitative Trait Loci


Specific Leaf Area (m2 g−1)


Total Leaf Area (m2 per plant)


Total Leaf Number per plant


Total Root Length per plant


Water Use Efficiency (g DM L−1 water)



The authors thank Martin Koper, Enza Zaden BV, and Jan Velema, Marcel van Diemen and Pieter Schwegman, Vitalis BV, for providing seeds, advice and insight. The project was financially supported through the Top Institute Green Genetics.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. J. Kerbiriou
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • T. J. Stomph
    • 2
  • P. E. L. Van Der Putten
    • 2
  • E. T. Lammerts Van Bueren
    • 1
  • P. C. Struik
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratory of Plant BreedingWageningen URWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Centre for Crop Systems AnalysisWageningen URWageningenThe Netherlands

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