Ding, Nie, Chen, Wang, Yang
For tree species adapted to shallow soil environments, rooting strategies that efficiently explore rock fractures are important because soil water depletion occurs frequently. However, two questions: (a) to what extent shallow soil-adapted species rely on exploring rock fractures and (b) what outcomes result from drought stress, have rarely been tested. Therefore, based on the expectation that early development of roots into deep soil layers is at the cost of aboveground growth, seedlings of three tree species (Cyclobalanopsis glauca, Delavaya toxocarpa, and Acer cinnamomifolium) with distinct aboveground growth rates were selected from a typical shallow soil region. In a greenhouse experiment that mimics the basic features of shallow soil environments, 1-year-old seedlings were transplanted into simulated microcosms of shallow soil overlaying fractured bedrock. Root biomass allocation and leaf physiological activities, as well as leaf δ(13)C values were investigated and compared for two treatments: regular irrigation and repeated cycles of drought stress. Our results show that the three species differed in their rooting strategies in the context of encountering rock fractures, however, these strategies were not closely related to the aboveground growth rate. For the slowest-growing seedling, C. glauca, percentages of root mass in the fractures, as well as in the soil layer between soil and bedrock increased significantly under both treatments, indicating a specialized rooting strategy that facilitated the exploration of rock fractures. Early investment in deep root growth was likely critical to the establishment of this drought-vulnerable species. For the intermediate-growing, A. cinnamomifolium, percentages of root mass in the bedrock and interface soil layers were relatively low and exhibited no obvious change under either treatment. This limited need to explore rock fractures was compensated by a conservative water use strategy. For the fast-growing, D. toxocarpa, percentages of root mass in the bedrock and interface layers increased simultaneously under drought conditions, but not under irrigated conditions. This drought-induced rooting plasticity was associated with drought avoidance by this species. Although, root development might have been affected by the simulated microcosm, contrasting results among the three species indicated that efficient use of rock fractures is not a necessary or specialized strategy of shallow-soil adapted species. The establishment and persistence of these species relied on the mutual complementation between their species-specific rooting strategies and drought adaptations.