Mycorrhizal impacts on root trait plasticity of six maize varieties along a phosphorus supply gradient

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Background and aims

Plasticity of plants refers to their ability to produce different phenotypes in different environments. Plants show plasticity aboveground as well as belowground. The influence of the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF) symbiosis on root plasticity is poorly known. This study aimed to quantify plasticity of root-system related, morphological, physiological or mycorrhizal traits along a soil phosphorus (P) supply gradient.


Six varieties of maize (Zea mays L.) were grown in pots with or without AMF at five rates of P supply. Fifteen root traits were measured and calculated after seven weeks of growth.


Root system traits (biomass and length) and physiological traits (phosphatase activity at the root surface and in the rhizosphere) showed high plasticity along the P gradient, whereas morphological traits (specific root length and root diameter) exhibited low plasticity. Mycorrhizal presence reduced root-system plasticity (biomass and length), increased morphological-trait plasticity (specific root length and proportion of fine roots), but had little effects on other traits.


Our results indicate that trait plasticity related to the root system constitutes the most important adaptive strategy for maize to variation in P supply, and that the mycorrhizal symbiosis reduces root-system plasticity.

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This study was financially supported by National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFD0200200) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (U1703232). We are grateful to four anonymous reviewers for their critical comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Gu Feng.

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Wang, X., Li, H., Chu, Q. et al. Mycorrhizal impacts on root trait plasticity of six maize varieties along a phosphorus supply gradient. Plant Soil (2020) doi:10.1007/s11104-019-04396-0

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  • Physiological traits
  • Morphological traits
  • Root/shoot ratio
  • Specific root length