Root hairs are important for uptake, especially for nutrients with low mobility in soils with high sorption capacity. Mutants with defective root hairs are expected to have lower nutrient uptake, unless they compensate with more root growth. Since root hairs can also contribute to the plant's water uptake their importance could change over the course of a growing season. It was our objective to investigate the role of root hairs under field conditions.
The root hair mutant rth3 of Zea mays and the corresponding wild-type were grown for two years under field conditions on sand and loam.
Shoot growth and P and K uptake of the plants were promoted by the presence of hairs at all growth stages. Differences between genotypes were greater on loam than on sand until tassel emergence, presumably as additional exploitation by hairs is more relevant in loam. Compensation for the absence of root hairs by increased root growth was not observed in absolute terms. The root to shoot ratio was higher for rth3 than for wild-type. Root traits showed high plasticity in response to texture, the most salient being a greater mean root diameter in sand, irrespective of genotype. The mechanism causing the increase in mean root diameter is still unknown. Root length density was higher in sand, which can be explained by a greater need for exploration than exploitation in this substrate.
The role of hairs for nutrient uptake could be confirmed under field conditions. The large impact of texture on root growth and consequences for carbon balance require further investigations.