Wheat root length and not branching is altered in the presence of neighbours, including blackgrass.

14 Aug 2017

The effect of neighbouring plants on crop root system architecture may directly interfere with water and nutrient acquisition, yet this important and interesting aspect of competition remains poorly understood. Here, the effect of the weed blackgrass (Alopecurus myosuroides Huds.) on wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) roots was tested, since a low density of this species (25 plants m-2) can lead to a 10% decrease in wheat yield and herbicide resistance is problematic. We used a simplified growth system based on gelled medium, to grow wheat alongside a neighbour, either another wheat plant, a blackgrass or Brachypodium dystachion individual (a model grass). A detailed analysis of wheat seminal root system architecture showed that the presence of a neighbour principally affected the root length, rather than number or diameter under a high nutrient regime. In particular, the length of first order lateral roots decreased significantly in the presence of blackgrass and Brachypodium. However, this effect was not noted when wheat plants were grown in low nutrient conditions. This suggests that wheat may be less sensitive to the presence of blackgrass when grown in low nutrient conditions. In addition, nutrient availability to the neighbour did not modulate the neighbour effect on wheat root architecture.