Foraging for space and avoidance of physical obstructions by plant roots: a comparative study of grasses from contrasting habitats


Author for correspondence:
Marina Semchenko
Tel: +372 737 6188
Fax: +372 737 6222


  • • Physical obstructions that reduce space for root growth can profoundly affect plant performance. The aim of this study was to investigate the ability of roots to avoid obstructions and forage for usable space, and to reveal the mechanism involved.
  • • Eight grass species from four genera were examined. Each genus included species characteristic of habitats with high and low nutrient availability. The ability to limit root mass and to adjust morphology within substrate containing obstructions in the form of gravel was investigated. A treatment with activated carbon, which adsorbs organic compounds, was used to examine the possible involvement of root exudates in responses to obstructions.
  • • Only species characteristic of nutrient-poor habitats restricted placement of root mass in substrate containing obstructions, and this response disappeared in the presence of activated carbon. Root morphological responses to obstructions differed from those shown in response to nutrient-poor conditions or compacted soil.
  • • These results suggest that the ability to avoid obstructions is dependent on the sensitivity of roots to their own exudates accumulating in the vicinity of obstructions. This is similar to other behavioural responses in which cues or signals are used to adjust growth before stressful conditions are encountered.