Predicting fine root lifespan from plant functional traits in temperate trees

Authors

  • M. Luke McCormack,

    1. Department of Horticulture, The Pennsylvania State University, 103 Tyson Bldg, University Park, PA 16802, USA
    2. Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA, USA
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  • Thomas S. Adams,

    1. Department of Horticulture, The Pennsylvania State University, 103 Tyson Bldg, University Park, PA 16802, USA
    2. Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA, USA
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  • Erica A. H. Smithwick,

    1. Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA, USA
    2. Department of Geography, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
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  • David M. Eissenstat

    1. Department of Horticulture, The Pennsylvania State University, 103 Tyson Bldg, University Park, PA 16802, USA
    2. Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA, USA
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Author for correspondence:
David M. Eissenstat
Tel: +1 814 863 3371
Email: dme9@psu.edu

Summary

  • Although linkages of leaf and whole-plant traits to leaf lifespan have been rigorously investigated, there is a limited understanding of similar linkages of whole-plant and fine root traits to root lifespan. In comparisons across species, do suites of traits found in leaves also exist for roots, and can these traits be used to predict root lifespan?
  • We observed the fine root lifespan of 12 temperate tree species using minirhizotrons in a common garden and compared their median lifespans with fine-root and whole-plant traits. We then determined which set of combined traits would be most useful in predicting patterns of root lifespan.
  • Median root lifespan ranged widely among species (95–336 d). Root diameter, calcium content, and tree wood density were positively related to root lifespan, whereas specific root length, nitrogen (N) : carbon (C) ratio, and plant growth rate were negatively related to root lifespan. Root diameter and plant growth rate, together (R2 = 0.62) or in combination with root N : C ratio (R2 = 0.76), were useful predictors of root lifespan across the 12 species.
  • Our results highlight linkages between fine root lifespan in temperate trees and plant functional traits that may reduce uncertainty in predictions of root lifespan or turnover across species at broader spatial scales.

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