Effects of corn (Zea mays L.) on the local and overall root development of young rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis Muel. Arg)

Abstract

Understanding better the interactions between root systems in associated crops is significant for basic knowledge in plant science and to help designing cropping systems. Current research on inter-specific root interactions concentrates on static descriptions of the horizontal extension of root systems or on the dynamics of provoked root encounters. This study considers detailed observations of the dynamics of inter-specific root interactions, in the vertical plane, at both the whole root system and the individual root levels. Corn and young rubber trees were grown in association in artificial conditions that excluded the possibility of competition for resources, using rhizoboxes, i.e. thin containers with a transparent wall. The paper presents novel approaches, such as the study of root system growth trajectories, to document root system development in terms of overall growth rate, colonization of soil space and individual root growth patterns. It was found that (i) corn roots developed towards rubber roots until a contact was established, (ii) rubber roots expanded faster and more vertically in association with corn, (iii) the expansion rates of both root systems varied concomitantly and (iv) inter-specific root encounters resulted in reduced elongation rates in both species. Implications of these results for corn/rubber inter-cropping are discussed. This work advocates in favour of a better understanding of under-ground facilitative effects between species. If understood enough to be manipulated, such knowledge might become a powerful tool for the design of more sustainable and efficient cropping systems.

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Abbreviations

DAS:

Days after sowing

RLD:

Root length density

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to the Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Thailand, for providing access to their experimental facility and help from support staff. This work was financially supported by the Royal Thai Government and the French Government, under the Thai-French Cooperation Program on Higher Education and Research (2005–2008), Khon Kaen University (40-years fund of Khon Kaen University) (2006–2008) and the Egide-PHC programme “Soil biology and carbon balance in rubber tree agro-ecosystems” (2009–2010). The authors would like to acknowledge Khon Kaen University, the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD), the French National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) for their continued support and assistance with this work. The authors are much indebted to the two anonymous referees for their valuable insight into this work and their diligent assistance with providing guidelines used to improve this paper’s original manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alain Pierret.

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Gonkhamdee, S., Pierret, A., Maeght, JL. et al. Effects of corn (Zea mays L.) on the local and overall root development of young rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis Muel. Arg). Plant Soil 334, 335–351 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-010-0386-2

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Keywords

  • Below-ground interactions
  • Root architecture
  • Trajectories
  • Inter-cropping
  • Root development