How Root Exudates Play a Major Role in Plant Survival
One of the most interesting things about nature is the study of how plants have evolved defense mechanisms to contend with a harsh and unforgiving environment. Like all living things, plants must constantly defend themselves against predators, parasites, harmful bacteria, and other threats. They have developed an effective defense mechanism to protect themselves against harmful agents in the soil. Plants secrete fluids through their roots, known as plant root exudates. These exudates have a major effect on the rhizosphere and help promote the health of the plant. It also promotes the growth of the plant and its relatives.
There is a huge amount of biodiversity that is present in the soil close to plants. There are millions of microbes, insects, animals, etc. that can be found near the rhizosphere of a plant or a tree. Since not all of these microbes are good for the plant, plants have evolved to exert an impressive level of control over the environment that they live in. By secreting root exudates, plants can control the contents of the rhizosphere at large. The root exudates consist of various organic compounds, ions, amino acids, sterols, heavy metals and more.
The rhizosphere is a sphere of influence that is essential for the health and growth of the plant. It is a very densely populated area and the plant has to work very hard to make sure that most of its resources can be used up by it. Almost 21% of all the fixed carbon is taken by the plant from the rhizosphere. This is why the plant needs to make sure that there are no unwanted elements in its rhizosphere. Harmful microbes and fungi can be kept in check by secreting root exudates into the soil regularly.
While there are many positive plant-microbe relationships in the rhizosphere, there are a lot of harmful bacteria and fungi as well.
Allelopathy is a major weapon that plants can use. Plants can promote the growth of themselves and their relatives by secreting allelotoxins into the rhizosphere. The number of phytotoxins that are secreted in the rhizosphere can effectively starve competing plants and organisms to death. However, positive relationships such as plants and mycorrhizae can also be promoted by the exudates. It has been estimated that 90% of plants have been colonised by mycorrhizae at some point.
One of the major functions of root exudates is to facilitate kin recognition within plants. Plants can distinguish between like and unlike species with the help of their exudates. This is an unseen and unthought-of level of sophistication, and it is impressive to discover such behaviour in plants. Root exudation can also be used to regulate the microbial makeup of the rhizosphere of the plant. This ability allows plants to have a lot of say in their environment. Many factors such as pH, microbial makeup, nutrient availability, etc., can be affected by the content of the root exudates.
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