Nitrate and ammonium concentrations, root proportion at harvest, and pictures of root proliferation from Local root growth and death are mediated by contrasts in nutrient availability and root quantity between soil patches

Plants are thought to be able to regulate local root growth according to its overall nutrient status as well as nutrient contents in a local substrate patch. Therefore, root plastic responses to environmental changes are likely co-determined by local responses of root modules and systematic control of the whole plant. Recent studies showed that the contrast in nutrient availability between different patches could significantly influence the growth and death of local roots. In this study, we further explored beside nutrient contrast, whether root growth and death in a local patch are also affected by relative root quantity in the patch. We conducted a split-root experiment with different splitting ratios of roots of Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) individuals, as well as high (5× Hoagland solution versus water) or low (1× Hoagland solution versus water) contrast nutrient conditions for the split roots. The results showed that root growth decreased in nutrient-rich patches but increased in nutrient-poor patches when more roots co-occurred in the same patches, irrespective of nutrient contrast condition. Root mortality depended on contrasts in both root quantity and nutrients: in the high-nutrient contrast condition, it increased in nutrient-rich patches but decreased in nutrient-poor patches with increasing root proportion; while in the low-nutrient contrast condition, it showed the opposite trend. These results demonstrated that root growth and death dynamics were affected by the contrast in both nutrient availability and root quantity between patches. Our study provided ecological evidence that local root growth and death are mediated by both the responses of root modules to a nutrient patch and the whole-plant nutrient status, suggesting that future work investigating root production and turnover should take into account the degree of heterogeneity in nutrient and root distribution.