Integration of root phenes for soil resource acquisition
Suboptimal availability of water and nutrients is a primary limitation to plant growth in terrestrial ecosystems. The acquisition of soil resources by plant roots is therefore an important component of plant fitness and agricultural productivity. Plant root systems comprise a set of phenes, or traits, that interact. Phenes are the units of the plant phenotype, and phene states represent the variation in form and function a particular phene may take. Root phenes can be classified as affecting resource acquisition or utilization, influencing acquisition through exploration or exploitation, and in being metabolically influential or neutral. These classifications determine how one phene will interact with another phene, whether through foraging mechanisms or metabolic economics. Phenes that influence one another through foraging mechanisms are likely to operate within a phene module, a group of interacting phenes, that may be co-selected. Examples of root phene interactions discussed are: (1) root hair length × root hair density, (2) lateral branching × root cortical aerenchyma (RCA), (3) adventitious root number × adventitious root respiration and basal root growth angle (BRGA), (4) nodal root number × RCA, and (5) BRGA × root hair length and density. Progress in the study of phenes and phene interactions will be facilitated by employing simulation modeling and near-isophenic lines that allow the study of specific phenes and phene combinations within a common phenotypic background. Developing a robust understanding of the phenome at the organismal level will require new lines of inquiry into how phenotypic integration influences plant function in diverse environments. A better understanding of how root phenes interact to affect soil resource acquisition will be an important tool in the breeding of crops with superior stress tolerance and reduced dependence on intensive use of inputs.
Functional Plant Ecology 4, 355
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