The position of localized soil compaction determines root and subsequent shoot growth responses

Kelvin D. Montagu*, Jann P. Conroy, Brian J. Atwell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

44 Citations (Scopus)


Plants growing in soils typically experience a mixture of loose and compact soil. The hypothesis that the proportion of a root system exposed to compact soil and/or the timing at which this exposure occurs determines shoot growth responses was tested. Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica cv. Greenbelt) seedlings were grown in pot experiments with compact, loose and localized soil compaction created by either horizontal (compact subsoils 75 or 150 mm below loose topsoil) or vertical (adjacent compact and loose columns of soil) configurations of loose (1.2 Mg m-3) and compact (1.8 Mg m-3) soil. Entirely compact soil reduced leaf area by up to 54%, relative to loose soil. When compaction was localized, only the vertical columns of compact and loose soil reduced leaf area (by 30%). Neither the proportion of roots in compact soil nor the timing of exposure could explain the differing shoot growth responses to localized soil compaction. Instead, the strong relationship between total root length and leaf area (r2=0.92) indicated that localized soil compaction reduced shoot growth only when it suppressed total root length. This occurred when isolated root axes of the same plant were exposed to vertical columns of compact and loose soil. When a single root axis grew through loose soil into either a shallow or deep compact subsoil, compensatory root growth in the loose soil maintained total root length and thus shoot growth was unaffected. These contrasting root systems responses to localized soil compaction may explain the variable shoot growth responses observed under heterogeneous conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2127-2133
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number364
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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