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Keywords:

  • Atmospheric CO2;
  • nitrogen;
  • roots;
  • turnover;
  • carbon allocation;
  • global warming

summary

In most natural ecosystems a significant portion of carbon fixed through photosynthesis is allocated to the production and maintenance of fine roots, the ephemeral portion of the root system that absorbs growth-limiting moisture and nutrients. In turn, senescence of fine roots can be the greatest source of C input to forest soils. Consequently, important questions in ecology entail the extent to which increasing atmospheric CO2 may alter the allocation of carbon to, and demography of, fine roots. Using microvideo and image analysis technology, we demonstrate that elevated atmospheric CO2 increases the rates of both fine root production and mortality. Rates of root mortality also increased substantially as soil nitrogen availability increased, regardless of CO2 concentration. Nitrogen greatly influenced the proportional allocation of carbon to leaves vs. fine roots. The amount of available nitrogen in the soil appears to be the most important factor regulating fine root demography in Populus trees.