Plants have evolved complex strategies to maintain phosphate (Pi) homeostasis and to maximize Pi acquisition when the macronutrient is limiting. Adjustment of root system architecture via changes in meristem initiation and activity is integral to the acclimation process. However, the mechanisms that monitor external Pi status and interpret the nutritional signal remain to be elucidated. Here, we present evidence that the Pi deficiency response, pdr2, mutation disrupts local Pi sensing. The sensitivity and amplitude of metabolic Pi-starvation responses, such as Pi-responsive gene expression or accumulation of anthocyanins and starch, are enhanced in pdr2 seedlings. However, the most conspicuous alteration of pdr2 is a conditional short-root phenotype that is specific for Pi deficiency and caused by selective inhibition of root cell division followed by cell death below a threshold concentration of about 0.1 mm external Pi. Measurements of general Pi uptake and of total phosphorus (P) in root tips exclude a defect in high-affinity Pi acquisition. Rescue of root meristem activity in Pi-starved pdr2 by phosphite (Phi), a non-metabolizable Pi analog, and divided-root experiments suggest that pdr2 disrupts sensing of low external Pi availability. Thus, PDR2 is proposed to function at a Pi-sensitive checkpoint in root development, which monitors environmental Pi status, maintains and fine-tunes meristematic activity, and finally adjusts root system architecture to maximize Pi acquisition.