Large root systems: Are they useful in adapting wheat to dry environments?

Jairo A. Palta, Xing Chen, Stephen P. Milroy, Greg J. Rebetzke, M. Fernanda Dreccer, Michelle Watt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

227 Citations (Scopus)


There is little consensus on whether having a large root system is the best strategy in adapting wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) to water-limited environments. We explore the reasons for the lack of consensus and aim to answer the question of whether a large root system is useful in adapting wheat to dry environments. We used unpublished data from glasshouse and field experiments examining the relationship between root system size and their functional implication for water capture. Individual root traits for water uptake do not describe a root system as being large or small. However, the recent invigoration of the root system in wheat by indirect selection for increased leaf vigour has enlarged the root system through increases in root biomass and length and root length density. This large root system contributes to increasing the capture of water and nitrogen early in the season, and facilitates the capture of additional water for grain filling. The usefulness of a vigorous root system in increasing wheat yields under water-limited conditions maybe greater in environments where crops rely largely on seasonal rainfall, such as the Mediterranean-type environments. In environments where crops are reliant on stored soil water, a vigorous root system increases the risk of depleting soil water before completion of grain filling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-354
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Plant Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


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