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Drought resistance of Pinus sylvestris seedlings conferred by plastic root architecture rather than ectomycorrhizal colonisation



Increased summer drought is considered as a threat to the regeneration of Pinus sylvestris in the Central Alps. To a certain degree, seedlings are able to mitigate negative effects of drought by altering root/shoot ratios. But, seedlings may also enhance access to water and nutrients by cooperation with ectomycorrhizal fungi.


We tested the importance of both mechanisms for drought resistance of P. sylvestris seedlings during early establishment and assessed whether differences occur between topsoil and deeper soil layers.


Biomass allocation and colonisation of fine roots by ectomycorrhizal fungi were assessed in seedlings grown for 6 months in a common garden under different precipitation scenarios: constant drought (March–September), summer drought (June–September), and wet conditions.


Root/shoot ratios increased from 0.6 under wet conditions to 0.8 under drought conditions, irrespective of the onset of the drought (March vs. June). In both drought scenarios, seedlings had shorter roots in the topsoil, increased the number of root tips per root length in both soil layers, but did not alter the colonisation rate of root tips by ectomycorrhizal fungi.


We conclude that plasticity in root architecture is an important mechanism for drought resistance of P. sylvestris during early seedling establishment.

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We thank R. Eppenberger, A. Joss, R. Maire, E. Schnider, and U. Wasem for field assistance and lab work, and M. Metslaid for comments on the manuscript.


The study was supported by grants 3100A0-118002 and 316000–121323 of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Barbara Moser.

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Handling Editor: Erwin Dreyer

Contribution of the co-authors

The co-authors jointly developed the idea and designed the experiment. The field work was carried out by Sarah Richter and Tabea Kipfer, supported by Thomas Wohlgemuth and Barbara Moser. Tabea Kipfer carried out the laboratory work with support by S. Egli. Barbara Moser and Tabea Kipfer analysed the data and wrote the manuscript with editorial advice by the co-authors.

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Moser, B., Kipfer, T., Richter, S. et al. Drought resistance of Pinus sylvestris seedlings conferred by plastic root architecture rather than ectomycorrhizal colonisation. Annals of Forest Science 72, 303–309 (2015).

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  • Central Alps
  • Common garden experiment
  • Ectomycorrhizal diversity
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Root/shoot ratio
  • Summer drought