Crop and weed competition studies rarely determine how plant-to-plant interactions alter the structure and physiology of crop roots. Soybean has the ability to detect neighboring weeds and to alter growth patterns including the allocation of resources to root growth. In this study, we hypothesized that low red : far red light ratio (R : FR) reflected from aboveground vegetative tissue of neighboring weeds would alter soybean root morphology and reduce root biomass and nodule number. All experiments were conducted under controlled conditions in which resources of light, water, and nutrients were nonlimiting. Low R : FR reflected from aboveground neighboring weeds reduced soybean seedling root length, surface area, and volume, including the number of nodules per plant. An accumulation of H2O2, an increase in malondialdehyde (MDA) content, a reduction in flavonoid content, and a decrease in 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH)–radicle scavenging activity were observed. The reduction in flavonoid content was accompanied by a decrease in the transcription of GmIFS and GmN93 and an increase in transcript levels of several antioxidant genes. These molecular and physiological changes may have a physiological cost to the soybean plant, which may limit the plant’s ability to respond to subsequent abiotic and biotic stresses that will occur under field conditions.
Nomenclature: Soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.].