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Keywords:

  • Ecohydrology;
  • roots;
  • soil moisture;
  • optimization

[1] Root depth and distribution are vital components of a plant's strategy for growth and survival in water-limited ecosystems and play significant roles in hydrologic and biogeochemical cycling. Knowledge of root profiles is invaluable in measuring and predicting ecosystem dynamics, yet data on root profiles are difficult to obtain. We developed an ecohydrological model of environmental forcing, soil moisture dynamics, and transpiration to explore dependencies of optimal rooting on edaphic, climatic, and physiological factors in water-limited ecosystems. The analysis considers individual plants with fixed biomass. Results of the optimization approach are consistent with profiles observed in nature. Optimal rooting was progressively deeper, moving from clay to loam, silt and then sand, and in wetter and cooler environments. Climates with the majority of the rainfall in winter produced deeper roots than if the rain fell in summer. Long and infrequent storms also favored deeper rooting. Plants that exhibit water stress at slight soil moisture deficiencies consistently showed deeper optimal root profiles. Silt generated the greatest sensitivity to differences in climatic and physiological parameters. The depth of rooting is governed by the depth to which water infiltrates, as influenced by soil properties and the timing and magnitude of water input and evaporative demand. These results provide a mechanistic illustration of the diversity of rooting strategies in nature.