• Pisum sativum;
  • correlative inhibition;
  • heterogenous environments;
  • root initiation;
  • nutrient availability;
  • soil nutrients


Roots are known to respond to favourable nutrient conditions by increased initiation and growth of lateral roots. The problem studied here was to what extent does this local developmental response depend on the environments of other roots on the same plant. Such dependence could allow for an optimal allocation of resources required for root growth in unpredictable, heterogeneous soils. Pea seedlings (Pisum sativum var. arvense cv. Dun) were pruned and grown to have two equal root systems, each in an individual container. As expected, these roots responded by increased development to a wide range of nutrient solution concentrations. The local development of these roots, expressed by their dry weight, was a function of the relative rather than the absolute conditions in which they were grown: roots in a given environment developed more rapidly if other roots on the same plant were in poorer than if they were in richer nutrient conditions. The number of lateral initials doubled within 3d after the roots were exposed to optimal nutrient conditions, before any dry weight differences could be detected. This rapid root initiation was also a function of the conditions other roots of the same plant were in. These results mean that root development, and especially lateral root initiation, depends on the integrated effects of the local environment and the internal correlative relations between the roots.