Soil type determines how root and rhizosphere traits relate to phosphorus acquisition in field-grown maize genotypes
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Phosphorus (P) is frequently limiting crop production in agroecosystems. Large progress was achieved in understanding root traits associated with P acquisition efficiency (PAE, i.e. P uptake achieved under low P conditions). Most former studies were performed in controlled environments, and avoided the complexity of soil-root interactions. This may lead to an oversimplification of the root-soil relations. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to identify the dominant root and rhizosphere-related traits determining PAE, in contrasting soil conditions in the field.
Twenty-three maize hybrids were grown at two contrasting P levels of a long-term P-fertilizer trial in two adjacent soil types: alkaline and neutral. Bulk soil, rhizosphere and root parameters were studied in relation to plant P acquisition.
Soil type had robust effect on PAE. Hybrids’ performance in one soil type was not related to that in the other soil type. In the neutral soil, roots exhibited higher specific root length, higher root/shoot ratio but lower PAE. Best performing hybrids in the neutral soil were characterized by top soil exploration, i.e., greater root surface and topsoil foraging. In contrast, in the alkaline soil, PAE and foraging traits were not correlated, P availability in the rhizosphere was greater than the bulk soil and phosphatase activity was higher, suggesting a ‘mining strategy’ in that case (i.e. traits that facilitate elevated P availability).
These results indicate the key role of environmental factors for roots traits determining high PAE. The study highlights the need to consider soil properties when breeding for high PAE, as various soil types are likely to require different crop ideotypes.
KeywordsPhosphorus acquisition Rhizosphere Root morphology Root architecture Maize
This research received funding from the European Community Seventh Framework Programme FP7-KBBE-2011-5 under the grant agreement no.289300 (EURoot project). This work was also partially supported by a Chateaubriand fellowship awarded to Ran Erel from the French Ministère des Affaires Étrangères (France-Israel scientific exchange program). We kindly thank the donors of the genetic material: Department of Agroenvironmental Science and Technologies (DiSTA), University of Bologna, Italy (RootABA lines); Misión Biológica de Galicia (CSIC), Spain (EP52); Estación Experimental de Aula Dei (CSIC), Spain (EZ47, EZ11A, EZ37); Centro Investigaciones Agrarias de Mabegondo (CIAM), Spain (EC169); Misión Biológica de Galicia (CSIC), Spain, (EP52); University of Hohenheim, Versuchsstation für Pflanzenzüchtung, Germany (UH007, UH250); and INRA CNRS UPS AgroParisTech, France (supply of the remaining INRA and public lines). We also thank Dr. Hillary Voet for helpful statistical advice.
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