Roots matter for the competition

Foxx et Fort

Root and shoot competition lead to contrasting competitive outcomes under water stress: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Foxx, Alicia J.; Fort, Florian
PLoS ONE . 12/11/2019, Vol. 14 Issue 12, p1-17. 17p.

Background: Competition is a critical process that shapes plant communities and interacts with environmental constraints. There are surprising knowledge gaps related to mechanisms that belie competitive processes, though important to natural communities and agricultural systems: the contribution of different plant parts on competitive outcomes and the effect of environmental constraints on these outcomes. Objective: Studies that partition competition into root-only and shoot-only interactions assess whether plant parts impose different competitive intensities using physical partitions and serve as an important way to fill knowledge gaps. Given predicted drought escalation due to climate change, we focused a systematic review–including a meta-analysis on the effects of water supply and competitive outcomes. Methods: We searched ISI Web of Science for peer-reviewed studies and found 2042 results. From which eleven suitable studies, five of which had extractable information of 80 effect sizes on 10 species to test these effects. We used a meta-analysis to compare the log response ratios (lnRR) on biomass for responses to competition between roots, shoots, and full plants at two water levels. Results: Water availability treatment and competition treatment (root-only, shoot-only, and full plant competition) significantly interacted to affect plant growth responses (p < 0.0001). Root-only and full plant competition are more intense in low water availability (-1.2 and -0.9 mean lnRR, respectively) conditions than shoot-only competition (-0.2 mean lnRR). However, shoot-only competition in high water availability was the most intense (— 0.78 mean lnRR) compared to root-only and full competition (-0.5 and 0.61 mean lnRR, respectively) showing the opposite pattern to low water availability. These results also show that the intensity of full competition is similar to root-only competition and that low water availability intensifies root competition while weakening shoot competition. Conclusions: The outcome that competition is most intense between roots at low water availability emphasizes the importance of root competition and these patterns of competition may shift in a changing climate, creating further urgency for further studies to fil knowledge gaps addressing issues of drought on plant interactions and communities.

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