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Data from: Fine root tradeoffs between nitrogen concentration and xylem vessel traits preclude unified whole-plant resource strategies in Helianthus

Citation

Bowsher, Alan W.; Mason, Chase M.; Goolsby, Eric W.; Donovan, Lisa A. (2016), Data from: Fine root tradeoffs between nitrogen concentration and xylem vessel traits preclude unified whole-plant resource strategies in Helianthus, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.4vc2n

Abstract

Recent work suggests variation in plant growth strategies is governed by a tradeoff in resource acquisition and use, ranging from a rapid resource acquisition strategy to a resource-conservative strategy. While evidence for this tradeoff has been found in leaves, knowledge of root trait strategies, and whether they reflect adaptive differentiation across environments, is limited. In the greenhouse, we investigated variation in fine root morphology (specific root length and tissue density), chemistry (nitrogen concentration and carbon:nitrogen), and anatomy (root cross-sectional traits) in populations of 26 Helianthus species and sister Phoebanthus tenuifolius. We also compared root trait variation in this study with leaf trait variation previously reported in a parallel study of these populations. Root traits varied widely and exhibited little phylogenetic signal, suggesting high evolutionary lability. Specific root length and root tissue density were weakly negatively correlated, but neither was associated with root nitrogen, providing little support for a single axis of root trait covariation. Correlations between traits measured in the greenhouse and native site characteristics were generally weak, suggesting a variety of equally viable root trait combinations exist within and across environments. However, high root nitrogen was associated with lower xylem vessel number and cross-sectional area, suggesting a tradeoff between nutrient investment and water transport capacity. This led to correlations between root and leaf traits that were not always consistent with an acquisition–conservation tradeoff at the whole-plant level. Given that roots must balance acquisition of water and nutrients with functions like anchorage, exudation, and microbial symbioses, the varied evidence for root trait covariation likely reflects the complexity of interacting selection pressures belowground. Similarly, the lack of evidence for a single acquisition–conservation tradeoff at the whole-plant level likely reflects the vastly different selection pressures shaping roots and leaves, and the resources they are optimized to obtain.

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