Growth and physiology of olive pioneer and fibrous roots exposed to soil moisture deficits

S. Polverigiani, M. L. McCormack, C. W. Mueller, D. M. Eissenstat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


In woody plants, pioneer roots are the main roots used to expand the root system horizontally and vertically whereas fibrous 'feeder' roots are chiefly used in the absorption of water and nutrients. Because of their different roles, we expected newly emerged pioneer and fibrous roots to respond differently to restrictions in soil moisture. We hypothesized that fibrous roots would exhibit greater growth plasticity and greater physiological impairment from soil moisture deficits, especially under heterogeneous conditions. We compared the responses of fibrous and pioneer roots of olive seedlings (Olea europaea) to localized and uniform soil moisture deficits in transparent containers in the greenhouse. In comparison with uniformly wet conditions, uniformly dry conditions caused reduced shoot photosynthesis and reduced shoot growth, but no significant effect on root morphology, root respiration (measured in aerated buffer solution using excised roots) or electrolyte leakage as a function of root age. Under heterogeneous soil moisture conditions, root growth tended to preferentially occur in the moist sector, especially in the pioneer roots. In comparison with pioneer roots in the moist sector, pioneer roots in the dry sector had higher tissue density and higher suberin content, but no shift in root respiration, non-structural carbohydrates or electrolyte leakage. In contrast, fibrous roots in the dry sector exhibited evidence of impaired physiology in older (>38 days) roots compared with similar age fibrous roots in the moist sector. While we anticipated that, compared with pioneer roots, fibrous roots would be more sensitive to soil moisture deficits as expressed by higher electrolyte leakage, we did not expect the strong growth plasticity of pioneer roots under heterogeneous soil moisture conditions. Differentiating the responses of these two very different root types can improve our understanding of how different portions of the root system of woody plants cope with soil moisture deficits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1228-1237
Number of pages10
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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