Publication details

Shoot: root ratio of seedlings is associated with species niche on soil moisture gradient



Year of publication 2022
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Plant Biology
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords Biomass allocation; evolutionary adaptation; moisture gradient; regeneration niche; seed nutrient composition; shoot; root ratio
Description Surviving the seedling phase is crucial for the establishment of plant individuals and populations. In ecosystems with dynamic water availability such as temperate grasslands, seedlings should adjust their growth strategy not only to match the current conditions but also to secure resource acquisition in the future. Here, we explored evolutionary adaptations determining plant early growth strategies in herbaceous species of temperate grasslands differing in their requirements for soil water availability. We chose 15 plant genera, within which we selected species differing in their Ellenberg indicator values for moisture. We cultivated the seedlings under standard conditions with sufficient water supply for 4 weeks. Subsequently, we measured length-based and mass-based shoot:root ratio to investigate seedling growth strategy and its association with species ecological niche. Seed size and content of soil-borne nutrients were considered as potential covariates affecting this association. Linear mixed-effect models identified the length-based shoot:root ratio of seedlings was positively associated with soil moisture requirements in a congeneric species comparison. Nitrogen and phosphorus seed concentrations had an additional negative effect on the shoot:root ratio. Neither of these trends was found for the mass-based shoot:root ratio. We demonstrated for the first time that there might be a general adaptation modifying the seedling shoot:root ratio according to the species niche position on the soil moisture gradient in temperate grassland species across a broad range of angiosperm phylogeny. This adaptation seems to be affected by seed mineral nutrient reserves and may operate in parallel to the well-known phenotypic plasticity.
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