Rhizosphere hydrophobicity: A positive trait in the competition for water.
Zitierfähiger Link (URL): http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?gs-1/14545
The ability to acquire water from the soil is a major driver in interspecific plant competition and it depends on several root functional traits. One of these traits is the excretion of gel-like compounds (mucilage) that modify physical soil properties. Mucilage secreted by roots becomes hydrophobic upon drying, impedes the rewetting of the soil close to the root, the so called rhizosphere, and reduces water availability to plants. The function of rhizosphere hydrophobicity is not easily understandable when looking at a single plant, but it may constitute a competitive advantage at the ecosystem level. We hypothesize that by making the top soil hydrophobic, deep-rooted plants avoid competititon with shallow-rooted plants. To test this hypothesis we used an individual-based model to simulate water uptake and growth of two virtual plant species, one deep-rooted plant capable of making the soil hydrophobic and a shallow-rooted plant. We ran scenarios with different precipitation regimes ranging from dry to wet (350, 700, and 1400 mm total annual precipitation) and from high to low precipitation frequencies (1, 7, and 14 days). Plant species abundance and biomass were chosen as indicators for competitiveness of plant species. At constant precipitation frequency mucilage hydrophobicity lead to a benefit in biomass and abundance of the tap-rooted population. Under wet conditions this effect diminished and tap-rooted plants were less productive. Without this trait both species coexisted. The effect of root exudation trait remained constant under different precipitation frequencies. This study shows that mucilage secretion is a competitive trait for the acquisition of water. This advantage is achieved by the modification of the soil hydraulic properties and specifically by inducing water repellency in soil regions which are shared with other species.