New nitrogen uptake strategy: specialized snow roots

Authors

  • Vladimir G. Onipchenko,

    1. Department of Geobotany, Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Mikhail I. Makarov,

    1. Department of General Pedology, Faculty of Soil Science, Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Richard S. P. Van Logtestijn,

    1. Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Viktor B. Ivanov,

    1. Timiryazev Institute of Plant Physiology RAS, Botanicheskaya ul. 35, Moscow 127276, Russia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Assem A. Akhmetzhanova,

    1. Department of Geobotany, Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Dzhamal K. Tekeev,

    1. Teberda State Reserve, Badukskii 1, Teberda, Karachaevo-Cherkessian Republic 369210, Russia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Anton A. Ermak,

    1. Department of General Pedology, Faculty of Soil Science, Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia
    2. Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Fatima S. Salpagarova,

    1. Department of Natural History, Karachaevo-Cherkessian University, Lenina ul. 29, Karachaevsk, Karachaevo-Cherkessian Republic 369200, Russia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Anna D. Kozhevnikova,

    1. Timiryazev Institute of Plant Physiology RAS, Botanicheskaya ul. 35, Moscow 127276, Russia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Johannes H. C. Cornelissen

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
      * E-mail: hans.cornelissen@falw.vu.nl
    Search for more papers by this author

* E-mail: hans.cornelissen@falw.vu.nl

Abstract

The evolution of plants has yielded a wealth of adaptations for the acquisition of key mineral nutrients. These include the structure, physiology and positioning of root systems. We report the discovery of specialized snow roots as a plant strategy to cope with the very short season for nutrient uptake and growth in alpine snow-beds, i.e. patches in the landscape that remain snow-covered well into the summer. We provide anatomical, chemical and experimental 15N isotope tracking evidence that the Caucasian snow-bed plant Corydalis conorhiza forms extensive networks of specialized above-ground roots, which grow against gravity to acquire nitrogen directly from within snow packs. Snow roots capture nitrogen that would otherwise partly run off down-slope over a frozen surface, thereby helping to nourish these alpine ecosystems. Climate warming is changing and will change mountain snow regimes, while large-scale anthropogenic N deposition has increased snow N contents. These global changes are likely to impact on the distribution, abundance and functional significance of snow roots.

Ancillary