Fine root distribution and persistence under field conditions of three co-occurring Great Basin species of different life form

Authors

  • Michael S. Peek,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Forest, Range and Wildlife Sciences and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322 USA;
    2. Present address: Department of Biology, William Paterson University, Wayne NJ 07470, USA
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  • A. Joshua Leffler,

    1. Department of Forest, Range and Wildlife Sciences and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322 USA;
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  • Carolyn Y. Ivans,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY 40475 USA;
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  • Ronald J. Ryel,

    1. Department of Forest, Range and Wildlife Sciences and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322 USA;
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  • Martyn M. Caldwell

    1. Department of Forest, Range and Wildlife Sciences and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322 USA;
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Author for correspondence: Michael S. Peek Tel: +1 973 7202245 Fax: +1 973 7202338 Email: peekm@wpunj.edu

Summary

  • • Fine roots of an annual grass, a perennial grass and a perennial shrub were examined. Based on life histories and tissue composition, we expected the greatest root persistence for the shrub and shortest for the annual grass.
  • • Roots were observed with minirhizotrons over 2 yr for number, length and diameter changes. A Cox proportional hazard regression correlated root persistence with soil water, depth, diameter and date of production.
  • • In 2001, grass roots had similar persistence times, but shrub roots had the shortest. In 2002, the annual had the longest median root persistence, the perennial grass intermediate and the perennial shrub had the shortest. All species responded similarly to the magnitude of seasonal precipitation; root numbers increased with favorable soil moisture and disappeared with drying; fewer, thinner roots at greater soil depths were found in the drier year (2001). Root persistence increased with soil moisture, diameter and earlier appearance in the spring.
  • • Plasticity in root morphology and placement was influenced by water availability, yet persistence was surprisingly contrary to expectations.

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