This study aimed to elucidate seasonal dynamics of ryegrass root systems in field swards. Established field swards of perennial ryegrass with white clover removed by herbicide and fertilised with nitrogen (N) to replace clover N fixation were subjected to lax and hard grazing management and root biomass deposition monitored using a root ingrowth core technique over a 13 month period. A previously published phytomer-based model of plant morphology that assumes continuous turnover of the root system was used to estimate mean individual root weight (mg) not previously available for field swards. The predicted root weights compared credibly with root data from hydroponic culture and the model output explained much of the seasonal variation in the field data. In particular, root deposition showed a seasonality consistent with influence of an architectural signal (AS
) determined by plant morphology. This AS
arises because it is theoretically expected that with rising temperatures and decreasing phyllochron in early summer, more than one leaf on average would feed each root bearing node. Conversely, in autumn the reverse would apply and root deposition is expected to be suppressed. The phytomer-based model was also able to explain deeper root penetration in summer dry conditions, as seen in the field data. A prediction of the model is that even though total root deposition is reduced by less than 10% under hard grazing, individual root weight is reduced proportionately more because the available substrate is being shared between a higher population of tillers. Two features of the field data not explained by the phytomer based model, and therefore suggestive of hormonal signaling, were peaks of root production after summer drought and in late winter that preceded associated herbage mass rises by about one month. In summary, this research supports a view that the root system of ryegrass is turning over on a continuous basis, like the leaves above ground. The phytomer based model was able to explain much of the seasonal variation in root deposition in field swards, and also predicts a shift of root deposition activity, deeper in summer and shallower in winter.
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