• Abies alba;
  • below-ground competition;
  • fine root distribution;
  • molecular identification;
  • plastid microsatellites;
  • tree individuals


Fine roots are expected to be important determinants of plant competition, but very little is known about the extent of root system overlap. Here, we describe the application of two highly variable plastide microsatellites to study the fine root distribution of tree individuals in a silver fir forest. We demonstrate that the spread of fine roots exceeds the width of above-ground parts, and that fine root overlaps among neighbouring trees are extensive both laterally and in depth. This approach will help to improve models of below-ground competition and will facilitate estimations of fine root biomass and thus of below-ground C pools.