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The Contribution Of Lateral Rooting To Phosphorus Acquisition Efficiency In Maize (Zea Mays) Seedlings

Jinming Zhu, Jonathan P. Lynch

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Low soil phosphorus availability is a primary constraint for plant growth in many terrestrial ecosystems. Lateral root initiation and elongation may play an important role in the uptake of immobile nutrients, such as phosphorus, by increasing soil exploration and phosphorus solubilisation. The overall objective of this study was to assess the value of lateral rooting for phosphorus acquisition through assessment of the ‘benefit’ of lateral rooting for phosphorus uptake and the ‘cost’ of lateral roots in terms of root respiration and phosphorus investment at low and high phosphorus availability. Five recombinant inbred lines (RILs) of maize derived from a cross between B73 and Mo17 with contrasting lateral rooting were grown in sand culture in a controlled environment. Genotypes with enhanced or sustained lateral rooting at low phosphorus availability had greater phosphorus acquisition, biomass accumulation, and relative growth rate (RGR) than genotypes with reduced lateral rooting at low phosphorus availability. The association of lateral root development and plant biomass accumulation under phosphorus stress was not caused by allometry. Genotypes varied in the phosphorus investment required for lateral root elongation, owing to genetic differences in specific root length (SRL, which was correlated with root diameter) and phosphorus concentration of lateral roots. Lateral root extension required less biomass and phosphorus investment than the extension of other root types. Relative growth rate was negatively correlated with specific root respiration, supporting the hypothesis that root carbon costs are an important aspect of adaptation to low phosphorus availability. Two distinct cost–benefit analyses, one with phosphorus acquisition rate as a benefit and root respiration as a cost, the other with plant phosphorus accumulation as a benefit and phosphorus allocation to lateral roots as a cost, both showed that lateral rooting was advantageous under conditions of low phosphorus availability. Our data suggest that enhanced lateral rooting under phosphorus stress may be harnessed as a useful trait for the selection and breeding of more phosphorus-efficient maize genotypes.