Little is known about the ability of legume root systems to respond to the heterogeneous supply of nitrate. A split-root nutrient solution experiment was set up to compare the root growth response of 2 lupin species, Lupinus angustifolius L. (dominant tap root and primary lateral system) and L. pilosus Murr. (minor tap root and well-developed lateral root system), to differentially supplied nitrate. These 2 species represent the extremes of the root morphology types present across the lupin germplasm.Nutrient solution containing low (250 muM) or high (750 muM) nitrate was supplied either uniformly, or split (high and low) between the upper and lower root system. The average growth rate and total root length of L. pilosus was 1.7 times that of L. angustifolius. For both species, the increased proliferation of roots in a high nitrate zone was accompanied by a decrease in root growth in the low nitrate zone, giving approximately the same total growth as the uniform low nitrate treatment. This correlative growth rate response was 15% larger for the first-order branches of L. pilosus than L. angustifolius. While few second-order branches grew for L. angustifolius, the second-order laterals of L. pilosus showed a 2-fold correlative root growth and branching response to the split treatments, with no difference in growth between the uniform high and low nitrate treatments. The second-order laterals thus proliferated in response to the differential supply of nitrate and not the absolute concentration. While the growth rate and branching of the second-order laterals of L. pilosus exhibited a typical correlative response, first-order branching was inhibited in all split treatments, regardless of whether the roots were in the high or low nitrate zone. This response was not seen in L. angustifolius. The difference in the root growth response of the 2 root system types to differentially supplied nitrate suggests a potential in the lupin germplasm for developing a line capable of greater nitrate capture from the soil profile.
Dunbabin, V., Rengel, Z., & Diggle, A. (2001). The root growth response to heterogeneous nitrate supply differs for Lupinus angustifolius and Lupinus pilosus. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 52, 495-503. https://doi.org/10.1071/AR00098