Plant and Soil

, Volume 391, Issue 1–2, pp 283–291 | Cite as

Should I stay or should I go? Roots segregate in response to competition intensity

  • Christoph Schmid
  • Sibylle Bauer
  • Maik Bartelheimer
Regular Article


Background and Aims

Root segregation has been observed in a variety of species. Though it is usually attributed to a plant’s attempt to avoid below ground competition, a direct correlation of root distribution with the intensity of competition has never been shown.


The test species Hieracium pilosella L. was exposed to a gradient of competitive pressure using the closely related species Arabidopsis petraea (L.) V.I.DOROF., Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh ., Capsella rubella Reut . and Cardamine hirsuta L. as neighbouring plants. Horizontal root distribution was quantified using a soil monolith method.


The neighbour species could be ranked according to their competitive effect on the test species, identifying two weak (A. thaliana and A. petraea) and two strong competitors (C. hirsuta and C. rubella). The degree of root segregation correlated negatively with the competitive effect caused by the various neighbour species.


We conclude that root segregation is indeed a response to competitive pressure. Further factors such as root symbiotic relationships or root exuded allelochemicals are supposedly involved in the outcome of root interactions. We propose the use of screening experiments on root responses to various neighbours in order to quantify each factor’s relative influence on rooting patterns.


Root segregation Root distribution Below ground competition Hieracium pilosella Monolith method Information integration 



The authors would like to thank their colleagues at the Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Regensburg for support, especially Christoph Reisch for constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Seeds were provided by the Botanical Garden of Regensburg, the LMU München, the University of Exeter, the PU Marburg and the MLU Halle-Wittenberg.

Supplementary material

11104_2015_2419_MOESM1_ESM.png (171 kb)
Fig. S1 Mean root biomass of H. pilosella in inner (grey) as compared to outer (white) monoliths. Error bars represent 95 % confidence intervals after adjustment for inter-plant variation. Robust effect sizes for each comparison are: 0.60 (control), −0.05 (A. thaliana), −0.28 (A. petraea), −0.72 (C. hirsuta) and −0.54 (C. rubella). “n.s.” stands for non-significant differences, whereas * depicts a significant difference on a 5 % level. (PNG 170 kb)
11104_2015_2419_MOESM2_ESM.png (152 kb)
Fig. S2 Mean root biomass of neighbour plants in inner (grey) as compared to outer (white) monoliths. Error bars represent 95 % confidence intervals after adjustment for inter-plant variation. Robust effect sizes for each comparison are: −0.13 (A. thaliana), 0.11 (A. petraea), 0.20 (C. hirsuta) and −0.22 (C. rubella). “n.s.” stands for non-significant differences. (PNG 151 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christoph Schmid
    • 1
  • Sibylle Bauer
    • 1
  • Maik Bartelheimer
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Plant Sciences, Faculty of Biology and Preclinical MedicineUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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