Above-ground competition does not alter biomass allocated to roots in Abutilon theophrasti



We tested whether plants allocate proportionately less biomass to roots in response to above-ground competition as predicted by optimal partitioning theory. Two population densities of Abutilon theophrasti were achieved by planting one individual per pot and varying spacing among pots so that plants in the two densities experienced the same soil volume but different degrees of canopy overlap. Density did not affect root∶shoot ratio, the partitioning of biomass between fine roots and storage roots, fine root length, or root specific length. Plants growing in high density exhibited typical above-ground responses to neighbours, having higher ratios of stem to leaf biomass and greater leaf specific area than those growing in low density. Total root biomass and shoot biomass were highly correlated. However, storage root biomass was more strongly correlated with shoot biomass than was fine-root biomass. Fine-root length was correlated with above-ground biomass only for the small subcanopy plants in crowded populations. Because leaf surface area increased with biomass, the ratio between absorptive root surface area and transpirational leaf surface area declined with plant size, a relationship that could make larger plants more susceptible to drought. We conclude that A. theophrasti does not reallocate biomass from roots to shoots in response to above-ground competition even though much root biomass is apparently involved in storage and not in resource acquisition.