Growth and root dry matter allocation by pasture legumes and a grass with contrasting external critical phosphorus requirements

Rebecca E. Haling, Zongjian Yang, Natalie Shadwell, Richard A. Culvenor, Adam Stefanski, Megan H. Ryan, Graeme A. Sandral, Daniel R. Kidd, Hans Lambers, Richard J. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
253 Downloads (Pure)


Background and aims: This work aimed to quantify the critical external requirement for phosphorus (P) (i.e. extractable-P concentration required for 90 % of maximum yield) for a number of temperate legume species and understand differences in dry matter allocation, P distribution and P acquisition efficiency among these species. Methods: Shoot and root growth of five legume and one grass species was assessed in response to six rates of P mixed into the top 45 mm of soil in a pot experiment. Dactylis glomerata and Trifolium subterraneum were used as benchmark species; they are commonly grown together in mixed temperate pastures and have low and high critical external requirements for P, respectively. Growth was compared with four alternative legume species: Ornithopus compressus, Ornithopus sativus, Biserrula pelecinus and Trifolium hirtum, that have root morphologies better suited to soil exploration and nutrient acquisition than that of Trifolium subterraneum. Results: Dactylis glomerata, Ornithopus compressus and Ornithopus sativus had maximum yields equal to or greater than Trifolium subterraneum but achieved this at rates of P less than half that of Trifolium subterraneum. Biserrula pelecinus and Trifolium hirtum had critical P requirements between that of Trifolium subterraneum and the Ornithopus species, but also had lower yields. Root dry matter of Dactylis glomerata and the Ornithopus species in the fertilised soil layer was only marginally changed in response to low P supply. In contrast, Trifolium subterraneum, Trifolium hirtum and to a lesser extent Biserrula pelecinus markedly increased root dry matter allocation to this soil layer. Species with lower critical P requirements were able to take up more P per unit root dry mass than those with higher critical P requirements, particularly at lower levels of P addition. Conclusions: The high P acquisition efficiencies of the Ornithopus species and Dactylis glomerata were likely to have contributed to their low critical external P requirements. It was surmised that differences in root morphology traits underpin the differences in acclimation to low P stress and P acquisition efficiency among the species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-79
Number of pages13
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


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