Wheat roots and domestication

Roucou et al.

Agathe Roucou, Cyrille Violle, Florian Fort, Pierre Roumet, Martin Ecarnot, Denis Vile

Journal of Applied Ecology
First published: 2 December 2017

  1. Human selection, changes in environmental conditions and management practices drove the phenotypic trajectory of crops during domestication. The characterization of the crop domestication syndrome lies mostly on reproductive characters. However, biophysical and ecophysiological constraints during vegetative growth are also at play and can strongly impact crop phenotypes. It has been argued that a broadened examination of crop phenotypes through a functional trait‐based lens should improve our understanding of the domestication syndrome.
  2. We used a collection of 39 genotypes representative of key steps during tetraploid wheat domestication and grew them in a common garden experiment. We quantified the vegetative phenotype of each genotype through the measurements of 13 functional traits related to root, leaf and whole‐plant dimensions.
  3. In modern cultivars, compared to ancestral forms, leaf longevity was shorter, while net photosynthetic rate, leaf production rate and nitrogen content were higher. Modern cultivars had a shallower root system and exhibited a larger proportion of fine roots, preferring to invest biomass above‐rather than below‐ground. We found ancestral forms to be integrated phenotypes characterized by coordination between above‐ and below‐ground functioning. Conversely, in modern forms, human selection appeared to have broken this coordination and to have generated a new type of network of trait covariations.
  4. Synthesis and applications. The examination of leaf, root and whole‐plant traits of wheat accessions indicated a strong shift in plant functional strategies over the course of domestication. Elite genotypes tended to better optimize resource‐use acquisition strategies than ancestral ones. The characterization of the crop phenotype based on vegetative traits thus suggests a much more complete domestication syndrome. Our findings highlight the benefits of using a functional trait‐based characterization of crop phenotypes to document the extent of domestication syndrome and to further advance the agroecological management of cereals.

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