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Environmental control of fine root dynamics in a northern hardwood forest


Geraldine L. Tierney, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA, tel. +607 255 1067, fax +607 255 0349, e-mail:


Understanding how exogenous and endogenous factors control the distribution, production and mortality of fine roots is fundamental to assessing the implications of global change, yet our knowledge of control over fine root dynamics remains rudimentary. To improve understanding of these processes, the present study developed regression relationships between environmental variables and fine root dynamics within a northern hardwood forest in New Hampshire, USA, which was experimentally manipulated with a snow removal treatment. Fine roots (< 1 mm diameter) were observed using minirhizotrons for 2 years in sugar maple and yellow birch stands and analyzed in relation to temperature, water and nutrient availability. Fine root dynamics at this site fluctuated seasonally, with growth and mortality peaking during warmer months. Monthly fine root production was strongly associated with mean monthly air temperature and neither soil moisture nor nutrient availability added additional predictive power to this relationship. This relationship exhibited a seasonal temperature hysteresis, which was altered by snow removal treatment. These results suggest that both exogenous and endogenous cues may be important in controlling fine root growth in this system. Proportional fine root mortality was directly associated with mean monthly soil temperature, and proportional fine root mortality during the over-winter interval was strongly related to whether the soil froze. The strong relationship between fine root production and air temperature reported herein contrasts with findings from some hardwood forest sites and indicates that controls on fine root dynamics vary geographically. Future research must more clearly distinguish between endogenous and exogenous control over fine root dynamics in various ecosystems.