Junaidi Junaidi, Cynthia M. Kallenbach, Patrick F. Byrne og Steven J. Fonte
To successfully manage for plant-soil interactions, we need to better understand how crops respond to changes in soil management, especially in terms of belowground investment. Specifically, crop genotypes that exhibit reduced plasticity in root growth and investment may not be able to take full advantage of changes in soil biological activity associated with soil health promoting practices. We hypothesized that genotypes with greater belowground investment respond more, in terms of plant growth and crop nitrogen (N) uptake, to compost and earthworm additions, agronomic factors commonly associated with soil health. We evaluated four spring wheat (Triticum aestivum) genotypes with distinct breeding and environmental histories, and one progenitor of wheat (Aegilops tauschii) under low soil fertility conditions in the greenhouse for differences in belowground root biomass and architecture. We then determined how these belowground traits influenced genotype response to additions of compost and earthworms. Measurements included plant growth, biomass, grain yield, root characteristics, plant N uptake, and soil N. Overall, in unamended soils, genotypes differed in above and belowground phenotypic traits. In general, Ae. tauschii had three times greater root: shoot (R:S) ratio, root length, and root biomass relative to wheat genotypes. We found that genotypes with higher R:S ratios responded more positively to compost additions compared to those with lower R:S ratios, particularly in terms of plant aboveground biomass, N uptake and soil N-cycling, and also exhibited greater plasticity in root morphology. Consequently, while higher R:S genotypes had relatively poorer yields in unamended soils, they outperformed lower R:S genotypes in total seed weight under compost treatments. Our findings suggest that genotypes with greater belowground investment may be better able to take advantage of soil health promoting practices, such as the use of organic amendments. These results highlight the need to consider soil management practices (and associated biological communities) in parallel with root phenotypic plasticity when evaluating wheat lines for improvements in plant-soil synergies.
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