How plants competing for underground space affects climate change and food production

Researching how plant roots store carbon, scientists have found that the energy which a plant devotes to its roots depends on proximity to other plants.

When plants are close together, they heavily invest in their root systems to compete for finite underground resources.  If they are far apart, they invest less.

Because about a third of the world’s vegetation biomass (and carbon) is below ground, this helps predict root proliferation in global earth-system models.

The international team of researchers was led by Princeton graduate student Ciro Cabal.

In a paper published in Science last week, the team reports on their use of a combination of modelling and a greenhouse experiment to discover whether plants invest differently in root structures when planted alone versus when planted alongside a neighbour. Continue reading