The root morphology of ten temperate pasture species (four annual grasses, four perennial grasses and two annual dicots) was compared and their responses to P and N deficiency were characterised. Root morphologies differed markedly; some species had relatively fine and extensive root systems (Vulpia spp., Holcus lanatus L. and Lolium rigidum Gaudin), whilst others had relatively thick and small root systems (Trifolium subterraneum L. and Phalarisaquatica L.). Most species increased the proportion of dry matter allocated to the root system at low P and N, compared with that at optimal nutrient supply. Most species also decreased root diameter and increased specific root length in response to P deficiency. Only some of the species responded to N deficiency in this way. Root morphology was important for the acquisition of P, a nutrient for which supply to the plant depends on root exploration of soil and on diffusion to the root surface. Species with fine, extensive root systems had low external P requirements for maximum growth and those with thick, small root systems generally had high external P requirements. These intrinsic root characteristics were more important determinants of P requirement than changes in root morphology in response to P deficiency. Species with different N requirements could not be distinguished clearly by their root morphological attributes or their response to N deficiency, presumably because mass flow is relatively more important for N supply to roots in soil.