The potential for phosphorus benefits through root placement in the rhizosphere of phosphorus-mobilising neighbours

Francois P. Teste, Kingsley W. Dixon, Hans Lambers, Jun Zhou, Erik J. Veneklaas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
55 Downloads (Pure)


Plants that produce specialised cluster roots, which mobilise large quantities of poorly available nutrients such as phosphorus (P), can provide a benefit to neighbouring plants that produce roots in the cluster rhizosphere, as demonstrated previously in pot studies. To be effective, such roots must be present within the short time of peak cluster activity. We tested if this requirement is met, and quantified potential P benefits, in a hyperdiverse Mediterranean woodland of southwest Australia where cluster-rooted species are prominent. Using minirhizotrons, we monitored root dynamics during the wet season in the natural habitat. We found non-cluster roots intermingling with all 57 of the observed cluster roots of the studied tree species,Banksia attenuata. Almost all (95%) of these cases were observed in a high-moisture treatment simulating the 45-year average, but not present when we intercepted some of the rainfall. We estimate that cluster-root activity can increase P availability to intermingling roots to a theoretical maximum of 80% of total P in the studied soil. Due to their high P-remobilisation efficiency (89%), which results from P rapidly being relocated from cluster roots within the plant, senescedBanksiacluster roots are a negligible P source for other roots. We conclude that, rather than serving as a P source, it is the cluster-root activity, particularly the exudation of carboxylates, that may improve the coexistence of interacting species that are capable of root intermingling, thus potentially promoting species diversity in nutrient-poor habitats, and that this mechanism will be less effective in a drying climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)843-855
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


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