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Root deployment and shoot growth for two desert species in response to soil rockiness
American Journal of Botany (2002)
  • P. Martre
  • Gretchen North, Occidental College
  • E. G. Bobich
  • P. S. Nobel
Soil texture, as well as the presence of rocks, can determine the water status, growth, and distribution of plants in arid environments. The effects of soil rockiness and soil particle size distribution on shoot and root growth, root system size, rooting depth, and water relations were therefore investigated for the Crassulacean acid metabolism leaf succulent Agave deserti and the C4 bunchgrass Pleuraphis rigida after precipitation events during the summer and winter/spring rainfall periods in the northwestern Sonoran Desert. The soils at the field site varied from sandy (<3% rocks by volume) to rocky (up to 35% rocks), with greater water availability at higher water potentials for sandy than for rocky soils. Although A. deserti was absent from the sandiest sites, its shoot and root growth during both rainfall periods were greatest in comparatively sandier sites and decreased as the soil rock content increased. Furthermore, A. deserti had twofold greater root surface area, root : leaf area ratio, and mean rooting depth at sandier than at rocky sites. As for A. deserti, shoot growth was greater for P. rigida at the sandier sites than at the rockier sites, even though its root surface area and mean rooting depth did not vary significantly. After early spring rainfall events, the leaf water potential for A. deserti did not differ between rocky and sandy sites, but transpiration rates were almost twofold greater at rocky than at sandy sites. During the same period, P. rigida had lower leaf water potentials and 25% lower transpiration rates at rocky than at sandy sites. The greater variability in the deployment of the root systems of A. deserti in response to soil rockiness may reflect its evergreen habit and slower growth, which allow it to endure periods of lower water availability than does P. rigida, whose leaves die during drought.
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Citation Information
P. Martre, Gretchen North, E. G. Bobich and P. S. Nobel. "Root deployment and shoot growth for two desert species in response to soil rockiness" American Journal of Botany Vol. 89 (2002)
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