Plant and Soil

, Volume 440, Issue 1–2, pp 551–568 | Cite as

Root growth plasticity to drought in seedlings of perennial grasses

  • Hans Martin HanslinEmail author
  • Armin Bischoff
  • Knut Anders Hovstad
Regular Article



Root growth strategies may be critical for seeding survival and establishment under dry conditions, but these strategies and their plasticity are little known. We aim to document the ability of young grass seedlings to adjust their root system architecture, root morphology and biomass allocation to roots to promote water uptake and survival under progressive drought.


Seedlings growing in columns filled with sand and exposed to drought or well-watered controls were repeatedly harvested for determination of biomass fractions, root length, −architecture and -morphology in a greenhouse experiment. Allometric scaling exponents and standardised major axis regression were used to investigate allocation patterns.


Young seedlings were able to sustain leaf turgor and functions during eight weeks of progressive drought through phenotypic plasticity of the primary root system producing deeper and simpler roots. Biomass allocation to roots decreased or did not respond, and other components of root morphology showed only moderate plasticity.


Our results suggest that morphological and architectural plasticity of the primary root system may well be key features for dehydration avoidance and survival in grass seedlings under moderate drought when allocation of biomass to roots and development of secondary roots are constrained.


Allometry Seedling strategies Rooting depth Root system architecture 



This study was funded by The Research Council of Norway, grant no. 208204. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4117_MOESM1_ESM.docx (181 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 180 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Urban Greening and Environmental EngineeringThe Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO)ÅsNorway
  2. 2.Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology, IMBE, Aix-Marseille University, Avignon University, CNRS, IRD, IUT Agroparc, BP 61207Avignon Cedex 9France
  3. 3.Department of Landscape and BiodiversityThe Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO)ÅsNorway

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