Leading dimensions in absorptive root trait variation across 96 subtropical forest species
- Absorptive root traits show remarkable cross-species variation, but major root trait dimensions across species have not been defined.
- We sampled first-order roots and measured 14 root traits for 96 angiosperm woody species from subtropical China, including root diameter, specific root length, stele diameter, cortex thickness, root vessel size and density, mycorrhizal colonization rate, root branching intensity, tissue density, and concentrations of carbon and nitrogen ([N]).
- Root traits differed in the degree of variation and phylogenetic conservatism, but showed predictable patterns of cross-trait coordination. Root diameter, cortex thickness and stele diameter displayed high variation across species (coefficient of variation (CV) = 0.51–0.69), whereas the stele:root diameter ratio and [N] showed low variation (CV < 0.32). Root diameter, cortex thickness and stele diameter showed a strong phylogenetic signal across species, whereas root branching traits did not, and these two sets of traits were segregated onto two nearly orthogonal (independent) principal component analysis (PCA) axes.
- Two major dimensions of root trait variation were found: a diameter-related dimension potentially integrating root construction, maintenance, and persistence with mycorrhizal colonization, and a branching architecture dimension expressing root plastic responses to the environment. These two dimensions may offer a promising path for better understanding root trait economics and root ecological strategies world-wide.