The demography of fine roots in response to patches of water and nitrogen



Fine root demography was quantified in response to patches of increased water and nitrogen availability in a natural, second-growth, mixed hardwood forest in northern Michigan, USA. As expected, the addition of water and water plus nitrogen resulted in a significant overall increase in the production of new fine roots. New root production was much greater in response to water plus nitrogen when compared with water alone, and the duration of new root production was related to the length of resource addition in the water plus nitrogen treatments; the average difference in new root length between the 20 vs. 40 d additions of water plus nitrogen amounted to almost 600%. Roots produced in response to the additions of water and water plus nitrogen lived longer than roots in the control treatments. Thus, additions of water and water plus nitrogen influenced both the proliferation of new roots and their longevity, with both proliferation and longevity related to the type and duration of resource supply. Results suggest that root longevity and mortality may be plastic in response to changes in soil resource availability, as is well known for root proliferation.