Plant and Soil

, Volume 211, Issue 2, pp 179–189

Root morphological and physiological plasticity of perennial grass species and the exploitation of spatial and temporal heterogeneous nutrient patches

  • Bart Fransen
  • Jaap Blijjenberg
  • Hans de Kroon
Article

DOI: 10.1023/A:1004684701993

Cite this article as:
Fransen, B., Blijjenberg, J. & de Kroon, H. Plant and Soil (1999) 211: 179. doi:10.1023/A:1004684701993

Abstract

Root morphological and physiological characteristics of four perennial grass species were investigated in response to spatial and temporal heterogeneous nutrient patches. Two species from nutrient-rich habitats (i.e. Holcus lanatus and Lolium perenne) and two species from nutrient-poor habitats (i.e. Festuca rubra and Anthoxanthum odoratum) were included in the study. Patches were created by injecting equal amounts of nutrient solution into the soil either on one location (i.e. spatial heterogeneity) or on several, alternating locations (i.e. temporal heterogeneity) within the pot. The consequences of changes in root morphology and the implications for the exploitation of the nutrient patches by individual plants were quantified by the amount of 15N captured from the enriched patches. The effects of nutrient heterogeneity on the acquisition of nutrients by species were determined by comparing the total nitrogen and phosphorus acquisition of the species in the two heterogeneous habitats with the total nitrogen and phosphorus acquisition in a homogeneous treatment. In this homogeneous treatment the same amount of nutrient solution was supplied homogeneously over the soil surface. The experiment lasted for 27 days and comprised one harvest.

In response to the spatial enrichment treatment, all species produced significantly more root biomass within the enriched patch. The magnitude of the response was similar for species from nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor habitats. In contrast to this response of root biomass, root morphology, including specific root length, branching frequency and mean lateral root length was not affected by the treatments. In response to the temporal enrichment treatment, all species were able to increase the nitrogen uptake rate per unit of root biomass. The species from nutrient-poor habitats had, on average, higher uptake rates per unit root biomass than the species from nutrient-rich habitats, but the magnitude of the response did not differ between the species. These results question the general validity of the assumptions that root foraging characteristics differ among species from nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor habitats.

As a result of these root responses, all species captured an equal amount of 15N from the spatial and temporal enriched nutrient patches and all species acquired significantly more nitrogen in the heterogeneous treatments than in homogeneous treatment. Hence, the ability to exploit local and temporal nutrient heterogeneity does not appear to differ between species from nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor habitats, but is achieved by these species in different ways. The ecological implications of these differences are discussed.

heterogeneity morphological plasticity 15N-uptake nutrients physiological plasticity roots 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bart Fransen
    • 1
  • Jaap Blijjenberg
    • 1
  • Hans de Kroon
    • 1
  1. 1.Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group, Department of Environmental SciencesWageningen Agricultural UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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