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Keywords:

  • elevated carbon dioxide;
  • fine roots;
  • minirhizotrons;
  • root turnover

Abstract

Efforts to characterize carbon (C) cycling among atmosphere, forest canopy, and soil C pools are hindered by poorly quantified fine root dynamics. We characterized the influence of free-air-CO2-enrichment (ambient +200 ppm) on fine roots for a period of 6 years (Autumn 1998 through Autumn 2004) in an 18-year-old loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) plantation near Durham, NC, USA using minirhizotrons. Root production and mortality were synchronous processes that peaked most years during spring and early summer. Seasonality of fine root production and mortality was not influenced by atmospheric CO2 availability. Averaged over all 6 years of the study, CO2 enrichment increased average fine root standing crop (+23%), annual root length production (+25%), and annual root length mortality (+36%). Larger increase in mortality compared with production with CO2 enrichment is explained by shorter average fine root lifespans in elevated plots (500 days) compared with controls (574 days). The effects of CO2-enrichment on fine root proliferation tended to shift from shallow (0–15 cm) to deeper soil depths (15–30) with increasing duration of the study. Diameters of fine roots were initially increased by CO2-enrichment but this effect diminished over time. Averaged over 6 years, annual fine root NPP was estimated to be 163 g dw m−2 yr−1 in CO2-enriched plots and 130 g dw m−2 yr−1 in control plots (P= 0.13) corresponding to an average annual additional input of fine root biomass to soil of 33 g m−2 yr−1 in CO2-enriched plots. A lack of consistent CO2× year effects suggest that the positive effects of CO2 enrichment on fine root growth persisted 6 years following minirhizotron tube installation (8 years following initiation of the CO2 fumigation). Although CO2-enrichment contributed to extra flow of C into soil in this experiment, the magnitude of the effect was small suggesting only modest potential for fine root processes to directly contribute to soil C storage in south-eastern pine forests.