Cluster root allocation of white lupin (Lupinus albus L.) in soil with heterogeneous phosphorus and water distribution

Cluster roots are structures formed by many plants adapted to phosphorus (P)-deficient soils. We investigated the combined influence of spatial heterogeneity in soil water and P distribution on the allocation of cluster root formation in white lupin (Lupinus albus L.). In this study, single plants were grown at a low or a high rate of water supply in containers filled with a P-poor sand to which either no P was added or which was fertilized homogeneously or heterogeneously. Furthermore, heterogeneous soil water distribution was established in half of the containers by using a finer instead of a coarser sand in a lateral third of the containers. Plant growth increased with water supply rate, but P fertilization had no influence on shoot biomass production. Although overall cluster root production decreased with increasing homogeneous P supply, localized P fertilization had no effect on cluster root allocation. However, cluster roots were preferentially allocated in the soil sections with lower water availability when overall water supply rate was low. The results suggest that overall cluster root production was a systemic response to initial plant P status, while cluster root growth was stimulated locally in drier patches when overall water supply was limiting plant growth.