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Variability in amount and frequency of water supply affects roots but not growth of arid shrubs



Rainfall and soil moisture variability have a strong effect on plant survival and seed germination in arid environments, yet very little is known about the effects on roots and growth of woody seedlings. Here we focused on the effects of variability in both amount and frequency of water supply on juvenile root and leaf functional traits and growth of seven Mediterranean shrub species occurring in arid SE Spain, Anthyllis cytisoides , Atriplex halimus , Ephedra fragilis , Genista umbellata , Lycium intricatum , Retama sphaerocarpa , and Salsola oppositifolia . In a 14-month greenhouse experiment we manipulated water supply expecting that reduced water amount and pulses of watering of different magnitude affected functional traits and seedling growth, even if the amount of water provided was the same. Different watering patterns altered soil drying dynamics, with reduced supply of water amount and frequent watering becoming the driest treatment. We found that roots of all species responded to alterations in water supply by changing biomass allocation patterns (i.e., higher root-to-shoot mass (R:S) ratio in droughted plants), and by altering fine roots diameter, measured in terms of specific root length. Indeed, differences in growth rate among species were significantly linked to fine roots diameter and biomass allocation, which relates to uptake capacity of roots. However, relative growth rate and leaf traits such as specific leaf area were insensitive, likely because prolonged droughts over longer periods of time seem necessary to constraint growth in all these arid shrubs.



Plant EcologySpringer Journals

Published: Oct 1, 2009

DOI: 10.1007/s11258-009-9589-0

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