Rooting depths, lateral root spreads and below-ground/above-ground allometries of plants in water-limited ecosystems
Article first published online: 19 MAY 2002
Journal of Ecology
Volume 90, Issue 3, pages 480–494, June 2002
How to Cite
Schenk, H. J. and Jackson, R. B. (2002), Rooting depths, lateral root spreads and below-ground/above-ground allometries of plants in water-limited ecosystems. Journal of Ecology, 90: 480–494. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2745.2002.00682.x
- Issue published online: 19 MAY 2002
- Article first published online: 19 MAY 2002
- Received 26 June 2001revisionaccepted 23 January 2002
- plant growth forms;
- potential evapotranspiration;
- root systems
- 1In water-limited environments, the availability of water and nutrients to plants depends on environmental conditions, sizes and shapes of their root systems, and root competition. The goal of this study was to predict root system sizes and shapes for different plant growth forms using data on above-ground plant sizes, climate and soil texture.
- 2A new data set of > 1300 records of root system sizes for individual plants was collected from the literature for deserts, scrublands, grasslands and savannas with ≤ 1000 mm mean annual precipitation (MAP). Maximum rooting depths, maximum lateral root spreads and their ratios were measured.
- 3Root system sizes differed among growth forms and increased with above-ground size: annuals < perennial forbs = grasses < semi-shrubs < shrubs < trees. Stem succulents were as shallowly rooted as annuals but had lateral root spreads similar to shrubs.
- 4Absolute rooting depths increased with MAP in all growth forms except shrubs and trees, but were not strongly related to potential evapotranspiration (PET). Except in trees, root systems tended to be shallower and wider in dry and hot climates and deeper and narrower in cold and wet climates. Shrubs were more shallowly rooted under climates with summer than winter precipitation regimes.
- 5Relative to above-ground plant sizes, root system sizes decreased with increasing PET for all growth forms, but decreased with increasing MAP only for herbaceous plants. Thus relative rooting depths tended to increase with aridity, although absolute rooting depths decreased with aridity.
- 6Using an independent data set of 20 test locations, rooting depths were predicted from MAP using regression models for three broad growth forms. The models succeeded in explaining 62% of the observed variance in median rooting depths.
- 7Based on the data analysed here, Walter’s two-layer model of soil depth partitioning between woody and herbaceous plants appears to be most appropriate in drier regimes (< 500 mm MAP) and in systems with substantial winter precipitation.