Effects of nutrient heterogeneity on root foraging and plant growth at the individual and community level
Wang, P., Mou, P., Hu, L., & Hu, S. (2022, September 3). JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BOTANY.
Abstract Plants enhance nutrient uptake in heterogeneous nutrient environments through selective root placement. Many studies have documented that plants grow better under heterogeneous than under homogeneous nutrient distribution, but comprehensive syntheses are relatively few. In a meta-analysis, we examined the effects of patch scale and contrast on plant responses by synthesizing the effects of nutrient heterogeneity on root foraging and plant growth in 131 comparative studies. Plant responses to nutrient heterogeneity were phylogenetically conserved, and the response in shoot biomass was significantly correlated with the response in root biomass but not with root foraging precision. Root precision depended on the competition regime, and plants had lower precision in interspecific than in conspecific competition. Community-level growth was significantly promoted by nutrient heterogeneity and was less variable than individual-level responses. Along with increasing patch scale, overall shoot and root responses of individuals increased but root foraging precision declined. In addition, moderate patch contrast induced the highest root responses. Our results indicate that plants optimize nutrient acquisition from heterogeneous patches mainly through increasing root growth, and plant communities exploit heterogeneous nutrients more effectively than individuals. Understanding the roles of patch attributes in nutrient-heterogeneity effects may help in designing fertilization practices to promote productivity and conserve biodiversity.