Journal Article

Improving the Scale and Precision of Hypotheses to Explain Root Foraging Ability

Steven W. Kembel, Hans De Kroon, James F. Cahill and Liesje Mommer

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 101, issue 9, pages 1295-1301
Published in print June 2008 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online April 2008 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcn044
Improving the Scale and Precision of Hypotheses to Explain Root Foraging Ability

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background

Numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain the wide variation in the ability of plants to forage for resources by proliferating roots in soil nutrient patches. Comparative analyses have found little evidence to support many of these hypotheses, raising the question of what role resource-foraging ability plays in determining plant fitness and community structure.

Scope

In the present viewpoint, we respond to Grime's (2007; Annals of Botany 99: 1017–1021) suggestion that we misinterpreted the scope of the scale–precision trade-off hypothesis, which states that there is a trade-off between the spatial scale over which plant species forage and the precision with which they are able to proliferate roots in resource patches. We use a meta-analysis of published foraging scale–precision correlations to demonstrate that there is no empirical support for the scale–precision trade-off hypothesis. Based on correlations between foraging precision and various plant morphological and ecophysiological traits, we found that foraging precision forms part of the ‘fast’ suite of plant traits related to rapid growth rates and resource uptake rates.

Conclusions

We suggest there is a need not only to examine correlations between foraging precision and other plant traits, but to expand our notion of what traits might be important in determining the resource-foraging ability of plants. By placing foraging ability in the broader context of plant traits and resource economy strategies, it will be possible to develop a new and empirically supported framework to understand how plasticity in resource uptake and allocation affect plant fitness and community structure.

Keywords: Root foraging; phenotypic plasticity; scale; precision; resource uptake strategies; traits

Journal Article.  5410 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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