The Effects of Environmental Heterogeneity on Root Growth and Root/Shoot Partitioning

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The purpose of this Botanical Briefing is to stimulate reappraisal of root growth, root/shoot partitioning, and analysis of other aspects of plant growth under heterogeneous conditions.


Until recently, most knowledge of plant growth was based upon experimental studies carried out under homogeneous conditions. Natural environments are heterogeneous at scales relevant to plants and in forms to which they can respond. Responses to environmental heterogeneity are often localized rather than plant-wide, and not always predictable from traditional optimization arguments or from knowledge of the ontogenetic trends of plants growing under homogeneous conditions. These responses can have substantial impacts, both locally and plant-wide, on patterns of resource allocation, and significant effects on whole-plant growth. Results from recent studies are presented to illustrate responses of plants, plant populations and plant communities to nutritionally heterogeneous conditions.


Environmental heterogeneity is a constant presence in the natural world that significantly influences plant behaviour at a variety of levels of complexity. Failure to understand its effects on plants prevents us from fully exploiting aspects of plant behaviour that are only revealed under patchy conditions. More effort should be invested into analysis of the behaviour of plants under heterogeneous conditions.

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