Data from: Root foraging performance and life-history traits
Cite this dataset
Weiser, Martin; Koubek, Tomas; Herben, Tomáš (2016). Data from: Root foraging performance and life-history traits [Dataset]. Dryad. https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.f66db
Plants use their roots to forage for nutrients in heterogeneous soil environments, but different plant species vastly differ in the intensity of foraging they perform. This diversity suggests the existence of constraints on foraging at the species level. We therefore examined the relationships between the intensity of root foraging and plant body traits across species in order to estimate the degree of coordination between plant body traits and root foraging as a form of plant behavior. We cultivated 37 perennial herbaceous Central European species from open terrestrial habitats in pots with three different spatial gradients of nutrient availability (steep, shallow and no gradient). We assessed the intensity of foraging as differences in root placement inside pots with and without a spatial gradient of resource supply. For the same set of species, we retrieved data about body traits from available databases: maximum height at maturity, mean area of leaf, specific leaf area, shoot lifespan, ability to self-propagate clonally, maximal lateral spread (in clonal plants only), realized vegetative growth in cultivation and realized seed regeneration in cultivation. Clonal plants and plants with extensive vegetative growth showed considerably weaker foraging than their non-clonal or slow-growing counterparts. There was no phylogenetic signal in the amount of expressed root foraging intensity. Since clonal plants foraged less than non-clonals and foraging intensity did not seem to be correlated with species phylogeny, we hypothesize that clonal growth itself (i.e. the ability to develop at least partly self-sustaining ramets) may be an answer to soil heterogeneity. Whereas unitary plants use roots as organs specialized for both resource acquisition and transport to overcome spatial heterogeneity in resource supply, clonal plants separate these two functions. Becoming a clonal plant allows higher specialization at the organ level, since a typical clonal plant can be viewed as a network of self-sustainable harvesting units connected together with specialized high-throughput connection organs. This may be an effective alternative for coping with spatial heterogeneity in resource availability.