Intraspecific variation in surface water uptake in a perennial desert shrub

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Study results suggest that lateral root functioning in Artemisia tridentata is associated with intraspecific identity and ploidy level. Subspecies adapted to habitats with deep soils generally had a smaller horizontal reach, and polyploid cytotypes were associated with greater water uptake compared to their diploid variants. Plant crown volume was a weak predictor of water uptake, and that neighborhood crowding had no discernable effect on water uptake. Intraspecific variation in lateral root functioning can lead to differential patterns of resource acquisition, an essential process in arid ecosystems in the contexts of changing climate and seasonal patterns of precipitation. Altogether, we found that lateral root development and activity is more strongly related to genetic variability within A. tridentata than to plant size. This study highlights how intraspecific variation in life strategies is linked to mechanisms of resource acquisition.

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