Root trait plasticity and plant nutrient acquisition in phosphorus limited soil

Amit Kumar, Muhammad Shahbaz, Manisha Koirala, Evgenia Blagodatskaya, Sabine Julia Seidel, Yakov Kuzyakov, Johanna Pausch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


To overcome soil nutrient limitation, many plants have developed complex nutrient acquisition strategies including altering root morphology, root hair formation or colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). The interactions of these strategies and their plasticity are, however, affected by soil nutrient status throughout plant growth. Such plasticity is decisive for plant phosphorus (P) acquisition in P-limited soils. We investigated the P acquisition strategies and their plasticity of two maize genotypes characterized by the presence or absence of root hairs. We hypothesized that in the absence of root hairs plant growth is facilitated by traits with complementary functions, e.g., by higher root mycorrhizal colonization. This dependence on complementary traits will decrease in P fertilized soils. At early growth stages, root hairs are of little benefit for nutrient uptake. Regardless of the presence or absence of root hairs, plants produced average root biomass of 0.14 g per plant and exhibited 23% root mycorrhizal colonization. At later growth stages of maize, contrasting mechanisms with functional complementarity explained similar plant biomass production under P limitation: the presence of root hairs versus higher root mycorrhizal colonization (67%) favored by increased fine root diameter in absence of root hairs. P fertilization decreased the dependence of plant on specific root traits for nutrient acquisition. Through root trait plasticity, plants can minimize trade-offs for developing and maintaining functional traits, while increasing the benefit in terms of nutrient acquisition and plant growth. The present study highlights the plasticity of functional root traits for efficient nutrient acquisition strategies in agricultural systems with low nutrient availability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-952
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization
  • nutrient acquisition
  • root hairs
  • root morphology
  • root traits
  • roothairless3 mutant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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