3 years ago

Root traits across environmental gradients in Mediterranean woody communities: are they aligned along the root economics spectrum?

Teodoro Marañón, Manuel Olmo, Rafael Villar, Carmen M. Navarro-Fernández, Enrique G. de la Riva, Ignacio M. Pérez-Ramos


Background and aims

Root traits play a critical role in plant resource-use strategies and ecosystem functioning, but there is great controversy regarding their identity and functionality in different dimensions of belowground functional variation. Here, we explored the level of covariation among a suite of key root traits (i.e. specific root length, root dry matter content, diameter and density) as well as between them and two aboveground traits related with plant function (leaf nutrient concentration and specific leaf area). We also evaluated whether these patterns of trait covariation were consistent at different spatial scales and organisational levels.


We collected fine root (< 2 mm) samples of 534 individuals (of 80 woody species) along a wide regional range of environmental conditions in southern Spain.


In general, strong correlations among most of the root morphological traits were found, supporting the existence of a ‘root economics spectrum’, as well as between root traits and the aboveground traits. However, root diameter was not completely aligned along this ecological axis, supporting the idea of a multidimensional spectrum of root traits. The main syndrome of root trait covariation was consistent at the different spatial scales and organisational levels. Soil nutrients and water availability were the main drivers of root trait variation.


Our results indicate that root trait variation is primarily aligned along a leading dimension related to resource economics. However, the distinct pattern of root diameter may indicate a multidimensionality of belowground traits that needs to be explored in greater depth.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11104-017-3433-4

DOI: 10.1007/s11104-017-3433-4

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