Normally, plants access nutrients in the soil using just their regular root systems. For plants growing in rocky mountain regions, this method presents a challenge because there is little soil there. The nutrients required by the plants are locked up in the rocks. Scientists are exploring the way in which these plants access the rock nutrients. The answer lies in the plants’ hairy roots as well as some chemicals used to dissolve the rock salts.
Investigating Plant Survival in Rocky Regions
This latest study was conducted by Patricia de Britto Costa, who is a plant ecologist at the University of Campinas in Brazil, and Anna Abrahão, who is a plant ecologist at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, together with other colleagues in Australia and Brazil. The paper they co-authored can be found in May’s Functional Ecology.
During the study, the team looked at herbaceous shrubs that grow in the rocky grasslands of Portugal. These areas are characterized by shallow-soil, which is very low in nutrients. In spite of this, the soil manages to sustain over 5,000 different plant species.
The researchers discovered that the fine hairs found on the root systems of these plants played an important role in extracting nutrients from the rocks. The fine hairs are closely packed towards the plant’s roots and are believed to secrete acid. This acid is used to dissolve the rocks, and this makes the required nutrients available.
Plants need a variety of salts and metal elements for normal and healthy growth. This includes sodium, potassium, phosphorous, and manganese. These come from rocks which break down and dissolve into the soil. Where soil is very limited, as in the mountains, plants need other ways to access these metals, or they face nutrient deficiency leading to an early death. The new findings help to explain how plants survive in some harsh and nutrient-starved growing conditions.