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1.  Spatial and seasonal variations in mobile carbohydrates in Pinus cembra in the timberline ecotone of the Central Austrian Alps 
European journal of forest research  2011;130(2):173-179.
To test whether the altitudinal limit of tree growth is determined by carbons shortage or by a limitation in growth we investigated non structural carbohydrates and their components starch and total soluble sugars in Pinus cembra trees along an elevational gradient in the timberline ecotone of the Central Austrian Alps. NSC contents in needles, branches, stems, and coarse roots were measured throughout an entire growing season. At the tissue level NSC contents were not significantly more abundant in treeline trees as compared to trees at lower elevations. Along our 425 m elevational transect from the closed forest to the treeline we failed to find a stable elevational trend in the total NSC pool of entire trees and observed within season increases in the tree’s NSC pool that can be attributed to an altitudinal increase in leaf mass as needles contained the largest NSC fraction of the whole tree NSC pool. Furthermore, whole tree NSC contents were positively correlated with net photosynthetic capacity. Although our observed NSC characteristics do not support the hypothesis that tree life at their upper elevational limit is determined by an insufficient carbon balance we found no consistent confirmation for the sink limitation hypothesis.
PMCID: PMC3191523  PMID: 22003357
Non structural carbohydrates; seasonal variation; elevational gradient; timberline ecotone; treeline formation; treelife limitation
2.  Similar variation in carbon storage between deciduous and evergreen treeline species across elevational gradients 
Annals of Botany  2013;112(3):623-631.
Background and Aims
The most plausible explanation for treeline formation so far is provided by the growth limitation hypothesis (GLH), which proposes that carbon sinks are more restricted by low temperatures than by carbon sources. Evidence supporting the GLH has been strong in evergreen, but less and weaker in deciduous treeline species. Here a test is made of the GLH in deciduous–evergreen mixed species forests across elevational gradients, with the hypothesis that deciduous treeline species show a different carbon storage trend from that shown by evergreen species across elevations.
Tree growth and concentrations of non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) in foliage, branch sapwood and stem sapwood tissues were measured at four elevations in six deciduous–evergreen treeline ecotones (including treeline) in the southern Andes of Chile (40°S, Nothofagus pumilio and Nothofagus betuloides; 46°S, Nothofagus pumilio and Pinus sylvestris) and in the Swiss Alps (46°N, Larix decidua and Pinus cembra).
Key Results
Tree growth (basal area increment) decreased with elevation for all species. Regardless of foliar habit, NSCs did not deplete across elevations, indicating no shortage of carbon storage in any of the investigated tissues. Rather, NSCs increased significantly with elevation in leaves (P < 0·001) and branch sapwood (P = 0·012) tissues. Deciduous species showed significantly higher NSCs than evergreens for all tissues; on average, the former had 11 % (leaves), 158 % (branch) and 103 % (sapwood) significantly (P < 0·001) higher NSCs than the latter. Finally, deciduous species had higher NSC (particularly starch) increases with elevation than evergreens for stem sapwood, but the opposite was true for leaves and branch sapwood.
Considering the observed decrease in tree growth and increase in NSCs with elevation, it is concluded that both deciduous and evergreen treeline species are sink limited when faced with decreasing temperatures. Despite the overall higher requirements of deciduous tree species for carbon storage, no indication was found of carbon limitation in deciduous species in the alpine treeline ecotone.
PMCID: PMC3718216  PMID: 23788748
Carbon supply; elevational gradient; Larix decidua; Nothofagus betuloides; Nothofagus pumilio; Patagonia; Pinus cembra; Pinus sylvestris; Swiss Alps; Alpine treeline
3.  Seasonal Dynamics of Mobile Carbon Supply in Quercus aquifolioides at the Upper Elevational Limit 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e34213.
Many studies have tried to explain the physiological mechanisms of the alpine treeline phenomenon, but the debate on the alpine treeline formation remains controversial due to opposite results from different studies. The present study explored the carbon-physiology of an alpine shrub species (Quercus aquifolioides) grown at its upper elevational limit compared to lower elevations, to test whether the elevational limit of alpine shrubs (<3 m in height) are determined by carbon limitation or growth limitation. We studied the seasonal variations in non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) and its pool size in Q. aquifolioides grown at 3000 m, 3500 m, and at its elevational limit of 3950 m above sea level (a.s.l.) on Zheduo Mt., SW China. The tissue NSC concentrations along the elevational gradient varied significantly with season, reflecting the season-dependent carbon balance. The NSC levels in tissues were lowest at the beginning of the growing season, indicating that plants used the winter reserve storage for re-growth in the early spring. During the growing season, plants grown at the elevational limit did not show lower NSC concentrations compared to plants at lower elevations, but during the winter season, storage tissues, especially roots, had significantly lower NSC concentrations in plants at the elevational limit compared to lower elevations. The present results suggest the significance of winter reserve in storage tissues, which may determine the winter survival and early-spring re-growth of Q. aquifolioides shrubs at high elevation, leading to the formation of the uppermost distribution limit. This result is consistent with a recent hypothesis for the alpine treeline formation.
PMCID: PMC3316670  PMID: 22479567
4.  No evidence for depletion of carbohydrate pools in Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) under drought stress 
The physiological mechanisms leading to Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) decline in the dry inner Alpine valleys are still unknown. Testing the carbon starvation hypothesis, we analysed the seasonal course of mobile carbohydrate pools (NSC) of Scots pine growing at a xeric and a dry-mesic site within an inner Alpine dry valley (750 m a.s.l., Tyrol, Austria) during the year 2009, which was characterized by exceptional soil dryness. Although, soil moisture content dropped to c. 10% at both sites during the growing season, NSC concentrations were rising in all tissues (branch, stem, root) till end of July, except in needles where maxima were reached around bud break. NSC concentrations were not significantly different in the analysed tissues at the xeric and the dry-mesic site. At the dry-mesic site NSC concentrations in the above ground tree biomass were significantly higher during the period of radial growth. An accumulation of NSC in roots at the end of July indicates a change in carbon allocation after an early cessation in above ground growth, possibly due to elevated below ground carbon demand. In conclusion our results revealed that extensive soil dryness during the growing season did not lead to carbon depletion. However, even though C-reserves were not exhausted, a sequestration of carbohydrate pools during drought periods might lead to deficits in carbon supply that weaken tree vigour and drive tree mortality.
PMCID: PMC3427021  PMID: 21974742
non-structural carbohydrates; Scots pine; drought; dry inner Alpine valley; carbon starvation; tree mortality
5.  Do elevations in temperature, CO2, and nutrient availability modify belowground carbon gain and root morphology in artificially defoliated silver birch seedlings? 
Ecology and Evolution  2013;3(9):2783-2794.
Climate warming increases the risk of insect defoliation in boreal forests. Losses in photosynthetically active surfaces cause reduction in net primary productivity and often compromise carbon reserves of trees. The concurrent effects of climate change and removal of foliage on root growth responses and carbohydrate dynamics are poorly understood, especially in tree seedlings. We investigated if exposures to different combinations of elevated temperature, CO2, and nutrient availability modify belowground carbon gain and root morphology in artificially defoliated 1-year-old silver birches (Betula pendula). We quantified nonstructural carbohydrates (insoluble starch as a storage compound; soluble sucrose, fructose, and glucose) singly and in combination in fine roots of plants under winter dormancy. Also the total mass, fine root proportion, water content, and length of roots were defined. We hypothesized that the measured properties are lower in defoliated birch seedlings that grow with ample resources than with scarce resources. On average, fertilization markedly decreased both the proportion and the carbohydrate concentrations of fine roots in all seedlings, whereas the effect of fertilization on root water content and dry mass was the opposite. However, defoliation mitigated the effect of fertilization on the root water content, as well as on the proportion of fine roots and their carbohydrate concentrations by reversing the outcomes. Elevation in temperature decreased and elevation in CO2 increased the absolute contents of total nonstructural carbohydrates, whereas fertilization alleviated both these effects. Also the root length and mass increased by CO2 elevation. This confirms that surplus carbon in birch tissues is used as a substrate for storage compounds and for cell wall synthesis. To conclude, our results indicate that some, but not all elements of climate change alter belowground carbon gain and root morphology in defoliated silver birch seedlings.
PMCID: PMC3790529  PMID: 24101972
Betula pendula; climate change; fertilization; fine roots; folivory; plant sugar allocation
6.  Morphological plasticity of ectomycorrhizal short roots in Betula sp and Picea abies forests across climate and forest succession gradients: its role in changing environments 
Morphological plasticity of ectomycorrhizal (EcM) short roots (known also as first and second order roots with primary development) allows trees to adjust their water and nutrient uptake to local environmental conditions. The morphological traits (MTs) of short-living EcM roots, such as specific root length (SRL) and area, root tip frequency per mass unit (RTF), root tissue density, as well as mean diameter, length, and mass of the root tips, are good indicators of acclimation. We investigated the role of EcM root morphological plasticity across the climate gradient (48–68°N) in Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst) and (53–66°N) birch (Betula pendula Roth., B. pubescens Ehrh.) forests, as well as in primary and secondary successional birch forests assuming higher plasticity of a respective root trait to reflect higher relevance of that characteristic in acclimation process. We hypothesized that although the morphological plasticity of EcM roots is subject to the abiotic and biotic environmental conditions in the changing climate; the tools to achieve the appropriate morphological acclimation are tree species-specific. Long-term (1994–2010) measurements of EcM roots morphology strongly imply that tree species have different acclimation-indicative root traits in response to changing environments. Birch EcM roots acclimated along latitude by changing mostly SRL [plasticity index (PI) = 0.60], while spruce EcM roots became adjusted by modifying RTF (PI = 0.68). Silver birch as a pioneer species must have a broader tolerance to environmental conditions across various environments; however, the mean PI of all MTs did not differ between early-successional birch and late-successional spruce. The differences between species in SRL, and RTF, diameter, and length decreased southward, toward temperate forests with more favorable growth conditions. EcM root traits reflected root-rhizosphere succession across forest succession stages.
PMCID: PMC3759007  PMID: 24032035
plasticity; ectomycorrhizal roots; morphological characteristics; root acclimation; silver birch; Norway spruce; forest succession; climate gradient
7.  Effects of climate variables on intra-annual stem radial increment in Pinus cembra (L.) along the alpine treeline ecotone 
Annals of forest science  2009;66(5):503.
Within the alpine treeline ecotone tree growth is increasingly restricted by extreme climate conditions. Although intra-annual stem growth recorded by dendrometers can be linked to climate, stem diameter increments in slow-growing subalpine trees are masked by changes in tree water status.We tested the hypothesis that intra-annual radial stem growth in Pinus cembra is influenced by different climate variables along the treeline ecotone in the Austrian Alps. Dendrometer traces were compared with dynamics of xylem cell development to date onset of cambial activity and radial stem growth in spring.Daily fluctuations in stem radius reflected changes in tree water status throughout the treeline ecotone. Extracted daily radial increments were significantly correlated with air temperature at the timberline and treeline only, where budburst, cambial activity and enlargement of first tracheids also occurred quite similarly. A close relationship was detected between radial increment and number of enlarging tracheids throughout the treeline ecotone.We conclude that (i) the relationship between climate and radial stem growth within the treeline ecotone is dependent on a close coupling to atmospheric climate conditions and (ii) initiation of cambial activity and radial growth in spring can be distinguished from stem re-hydration by histological analysis.
PMCID: PMC3059571  PMID: 21423861
dendrometer; Pinus cembra; radial increment; treeline ecotone; xylem formation
8.  Radial Growth of Qilian Juniper on the Northeast Tibetan Plateau and Potential Climate Associations 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79362.
There is controversy regarding the limiting climatic factor for tree radial growth at the alpine treeline on the northeastern Tibetan Plateau. In this study, we collected 594 increment cores from 331 trees, grouped within four altitude belts spanning the range 3550 to 4020 m.a.s.l. on a single hillside. We have developed four equivalent ring-width chronologies and shown that there are no significant differences in their growth-climate responses during 1956 to 2011 or in their longer-term growth patterns during the period AD 1110–2011. The main climate influence on radial growth is shown to be precipitation variability. Missing ring analysis shows that tree radial growth at the uppermost treeline location is more sensitive to climate variation than that at other elevations, and poor tree radial growth is particularly linked to the occurrence of serious drought events. Hence water limitation, rather than temperature stress, plays the pivotal role in controlling the radial growth of Sabina przewalskii Kom. at the treeline in this region. This finding contradicts any generalisation that tree-ring chronologies from high-elevation treeline environments are mostly indicators of temperature changes.
PMCID: PMC3828375  PMID: 24244488
9.  Root physiological adaptations involved in enhancing P assimilation in mining and non-mining ecotypes of Polygonum hydropiper grown under organic P media 
It is important to seek out plant species, high in phosphorus (P) uptake, for phytoremediation of P-enriched environments with a large amount of organic P (Po). P assimilation characteristics and the related mechanisms of Polygonum hydropiper were investigated in hydroponic media containing various concentrations of Po (1–8 mmol L-1) supplied as phytate. The mining ecotype (ME) showed significantly higher biomass in both shoots and roots compared to the non-mining ecotype (NME) at 4, 6, and 8 m mol L-1. Shoot P content of both ecotypes increased up to 4 mmol L-1 while root P content increased continually up to 8 mmol L-1 for the ME and up to 6 mmol L-1 for the NME. Root P content of the ME exceeded 1% dry weight under 6 and 8 mmol L-1. The ME had significantly higher P accumulation in both shoots and roots compared to the NME supplied with 6 and 8 mmol L-1. The ME showed higher total root length, specific root length, root surface area, root volume, and displayed significantly greater root length, root surface area, and root volume of lateral roots compared to the NME grown in all Po treatments. Average diameter of lateral roots was 0.17–19 mm for the ME and 0.18–0.21 mm for the NME. Greater acid phosphatase and phytase activities were observed in the ME grown under different levels of Po relative to the NME. This indicated fine root morphology, enhanced acid phosphatase and phytase activities might be adaptations to high Po media. Results from this study establish that the ME of P. hydropiper is capable of assimilating P from Po media and is a potential material for phytoremediation of polluted area with high Po.
PMCID: PMC4316707
organic phosphorus (Po); phytate; root morphology; acid phosphatase; phytase; phytoremediation
10.  No evidence of carbon limitation with tree age and height in Nothofagus pumilio under Mediterranean and temperate climate conditions 
Annals of Botany  2011;108(5):907-917.
Background and Aims
Trees universally decrease their growth with age. Most explanations for this trend so far support the hypothesis that carbon (C) gain becomes limited with age; though very few studies have directly assessed the relative reductions of C gain and C demand with tree age. It has also been suggested that drought enhances the effect of C gain limitation in trees. Here tests were carried out to determine whether C gain limitation is causing the growth decay with tree age, and whether drought accentuates its effect.
The balance between C gain and C demand across tree age and height ranges was estimated. For this, the concentration of non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) in stems and roots of trees of different ages and heights was measured in the deciduous temperate species Nothofagus pumilio. An ontogenetic decrease in NSCs indicates support for C limitation. Furthermore, the importance of drought in altering the C balance with ontogeny was assessed by sampling the same species in Mediterranean and humid climate locations in the southern Andes of Chile. Wood density (WD) and stable carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) were also determined to examine drought constraints on C gain.
Key Results
At both locations, it was effectively found that tree growth ultimately decreased with tree age and height. It was found, however, that NSC concentrations did not decrease with tree age or height when WD was considered, suggesting that C limitation is not the ultimate mechanism causing the age/height-related declining tree growth. δ13C decreased with tree age/height at the Mediterranean site only; drought effect increased with tree age/height, but this pattern was not mirrored by the levels of NSCs.
The results indicate that concentrations of C storage in N. pumilio trees do not decrease with tree age or height, and that reduced C assimilation due to summer drought does not alter this pattern.
PMCID: PMC3177673  PMID: 21852277
Carbon isotope composition; drought; hydraulic limitation hypothesis; Mediterranean climate; non-structural carbohydrates; Nothofagus pumilio; ontogeny; Patagonia
11.  Temporal dynamic of wood formation in Pinus cembra along the alpine treeline ecotone and the effect of climate variables 
Trees (Berlin, Germany : West)  2009;23(3):623-635.
We determined the temporal dynamic of cambial activity and xylem development of stone pine (Pinus cembra L.) throughout the treeline ecotone. Repeated micro-sampling of the developing tree ring was carried out during the growing seasons 2006 and 2007 at the timberline (1950 m a.s.l.), treeline (2110 m a.s.l.) and within the krummholz belt (2180 m a.s.l.) and the influence of climate variables on intra-annual wood formation was determined.
At the beginning of both growing seasons, highest numbers of cambial and enlarging cells were observed at the treeline. Soil temperatures at time of initiation of cambial activity were c. 1.5 °C higher at treeline (open canopy) compared to timberline (closed canopy), suggesting that a threshold root-zone temperature is involved in triggering onset of above ground stem growth.
The rate of xylem cell production determined in two weekly intervals during June through August 2006-2007 was significantly correlated with air temperature (temperature sums expressed as degree-days and mean daily maximum temperature) at the timberline only. Lack of significant relationships between tracheid production and temperature variables at the treeline and within the krummholz belt support past dendroclimatological studies that more extreme environmental conditions (e.g., wind exposure, frost desiccation, late frost) increasingly control tree growth above timberline.
Results of this study revealed that spatial and temporal (i.e. year-to-year) variability in timing and dynamic of wood formation of Pinus cembra is strongly influenced by local site factors within the treeline ecotone and the dynamics of seasonal temperature variation, respectively.
PMCID: PMC3078619  PMID: 21509148
Cambium; intra-annual growth; Pinus cembra; temperature; tracheid production
12.  Variation of Maximum Tree Height and Annual Shoot Growth of Smith Fir at Various Elevations in the Sygera Mountains, Southeastern Tibetan Plateau 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e31725.
Little is known about tree height and height growth (as annual shoot elongation of the apical part of vertical stems) of coniferous trees growing at various altitudes on the Tibetan Plateau, which provides a high-elevation natural platform for assessing tree growth performance in relation to future climate change. We here investigated the variation of maximum tree height and annual height increment of Smith fir (Abies georgei var. smithii) in seven forest plots (30 m×40 m) along two altitudinal transects between 3,800 m and 4,200/4,390 m above sea level (a.s.l.) in the Sygera Mountains, southeastern Tibetan Plateau. Four plots were located on north-facing slopes and three plots on southeast-facing slopes. At each site, annual shoot growth was obtained by measuring the distance between successive terminal bud scars along the main stem of 25 trees that were between 2 and 4 m high. Maximum/mean tree height and mean annual height increment of Smith fir decreased with increasing altitude up to the tree line, indicative of a stress gradient (the dominant temperature gradient) along the altitudinal transect. Above-average mean minimum summer (particularly July) temperatures affected height increment positively, whereas precipitation had no significant effect on shoot growth. The time series of annual height increments of Smith fir can be used for the reconstruction of past climate on the southeastern Tibetan Plateau. In addition, it can be expected that the rising summer temperatures observed in the recent past and anticipated for the future will enhance Smith fir's growth throughout its altitudinal distribution range.
PMCID: PMC3291607  PMID: 22396738
13.  Waterlogging-induced changes in root architecture of germplasm accessions of the tropical forage grass Brachiaria humidicola 
AoB Plants  2014;6:plu017.
Brachiaria humidicola, a tropical forage grass, develops aerenchyma in nodal roots to adapt to waterlogging. A large body of work has focused on the functional role of aerenchyma in nodal roots under waterlogged soil conditions. On the other hand, quantification of responses of lateral roots to waterlogging has been often overlooked in past work. Our data indicated that although waterlogging reduced the overall proportion of lateral roots, its proportion significantly increased in the top 10 cm of the soil. This suggests that soil flooding increases lateral root proliferation of B. humidicola in upper soil layers. This may compensate the reduction of root surface area brought by the restriction of root growth at depths below 30 cm into waterlogged soil.
Waterlogging is one of the major factors limiting the productivity of pastures in the humid tropics. Brachiaria humidicola is a forage grass commonly used in zones prone to temporary waterlogging. Brachiaria humidicola accessions adapt to waterlogging by increasing aerenchyma in nodal roots above constitutive levels to improve oxygenation of root tissues. In some accessions, waterlogging reduces the number of lateral roots developed from main root axes. Waterlogging-induced reduction of lateral roots could be of adaptive value as lateral roots consume oxygen supplied from above ground via their parent root. However, a reduction in lateral root development could also be detrimental by decreasing the surface area for nutrient and water absorption. To examine the impact of waterlogging on lateral root development, an outdoor study was conducted to test differences in vertical root distribution (in terms of dry mass and length) and the proportion of lateral roots to the total root system (sum of nodal and lateral roots) down the soil profile under drained or waterlogged soil conditions. Plant material consisted of 12 B. humidicola accessions from the gene bank of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Colombia. Rooting depth was restricted by 21 days of waterlogging and confined to the first 30 cm below the soil surface. Although waterlogging reduced the overall proportion of lateral roots, its proportion significantly increased in the top 10 cm of the soil. This suggests that soil flooding increases lateral root proliferation of B. humidicola in the upper soil layers. This may compensate for the reduction of root surface area brought about by the restriction of root growth at depths below 30 cm. Further work is needed to test the relative efficiency of nodal and lateral roots for nutrient and water uptake under waterlogged soil conditions.
PMCID: PMC4038435  PMID: 24876299
Lateral root proportion; oxygen deficiency; rooting depth; root length; soil flooding; vertical root distribution.
14.  Response of millet and sorghum to a varying water supply around the primary and nodal roots 
Annals of Botany  2013;112(2):439-446.
Background and Aims
Cereals have two root systems. The primary system originates from the embryo when the seed germinates and can support the plant until it produces grain. The nodal system can emerge from stem nodes throughout the plant's life; its value for yield is unclear and depends on the environment. The aim of this study was to test the role of nodal roots of sorghum and millet in plant growth in response to variation in soil moisture. Sorghum and millet were chosen as both are adapted to dry conditions.
Sorghum and millet were grown in a split-pot system that allowed the primary and nodal roots to be watered separately.
Key Results
When primary and nodal roots were watered (12 % soil water content; SWC), millet nodal roots were seven times longer than those of sorghum and six times longer than millet plants in dry treatments, mainly from an 8-fold increase in branch root length. When soil was allowed to dry in both compartments, millet nodal roots responded and grew 20 % longer branch roots than in the well-watered control. Sorghum nodal roots were unchanged. When only primary roots received water, nodal roots of both species emerged and elongated into extremely dry soil (0·6–1·5 % SWC), possibly with phloem-delivered water from the primary roots in the moist inner pot. Nodal roots were thick, short, branchless and vertical, indicating a tropism that was more pronounced in millet. Total nodal root length increased in both species when the dry soil was covered with plastic, suggesting that stubble retention or leaf mulching could facilitate nodal roots reaching deeper moist layers in dry climates. Greater nodal root length in millet than in sorghum was associated with increased shoot biomass, water uptake and water use efficiency (shoot mass per water). Millet had a more plastic response than sorghum to moisture around the nodal roots due to (1) faster growth and progression through ontogeny for earlier nodal root branch length and (2) partitioning to nodal root length from primary roots, independent of shoot size.
Nodal and primary roots have distinct responses to soil moisture that depend on species. They can be selected independently in a breeding programme to shape root architecture. A rapid rate of plant development and enhanced responsiveness to local moisture may be traits that favour nodal roots and water use efficiency at no cost to shoot growth.
PMCID: PMC3698390  PMID: 23749473
Millet; Pennisetum glaucum; plasticity; adventitious roots; crown roots; lateral roots; sorghum; Sorghum bicolor; split-root system; soil moisture
15.  Interacting Microbe and Litter Quality Controls on Litter Decomposition: A Modeling Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108769.
The decomposition of plant litter in soil is a dynamic process during which substrate chemistry and microbial controls interact. We more clearly quantify these controls with a revised version of the Guild-based Decomposition Model (GDM) in which we used a reverse Michaelis-Menten approach to simulate short-term (112 days) decomposition of roots from four genotypes of Zea mays that differed primarily in lignin chemistry. A co-metabolic relationship between the degradation of lignin and holocellulose (cellulose+hemicellulose) fractions of litter showed that the reduction in decay rate with increasing lignin concentration (LCI) was related to the level of arabinan substitutions in arabinoxylan chains (i.e., arabinan to xylan or A∶X ratio) and the extent to which hemicellulose chains are cross-linked with lignin in plant cell walls. This pattern was consistent between genotypes and during progressive decomposition within each genotype. Moreover, decay rates were controlled by these cross-linkages from the start of decomposition. We also discovered it necessary to divide the Van Soest soluble (labile) fraction of litter C into two pools: one that rapidly decomposed and a second that was more persistent. Simulated microbial production was consistent with recent studies suggesting that more rapidly decomposing materials can generate greater amounts of potentially recalcitrant microbial products despite the rapid loss of litter mass. Sensitivity analyses failed to identify any model parameter that consistently explained a large proportion of model variation, suggesting that feedback controls between litter quality and microbial activity in the reverse Michaelis-Menten approach resulted in stable model behavior. Model extrapolations to an independent set of data, derived from the decomposition of 12 different genotypes of maize roots, averaged within <3% of observed respiration rates and total CO2 efflux over 112 days.
PMCID: PMC4181322  PMID: 25264895
16.  Comparing Morphological Plasticity of Root Orders in Slow- and Fast-growing Citrus Rootstocks Supplied with Different Nitrate Levels 
Annals of Botany  2007;100(6):1287-1296.
Background and Aims
Studies of the plasticity of functional root traits involved in resource acquisition have focused mainly on root length without considering such ‘morphological components’ as biomass allocation, specific root length, root fineness, and tissue density that affect root length. The plasticity of the above components in response to nitrate supply was studied in each root order of two co-generic citrus rootstocks, namely the fast-growing Citrus jambhiri ‘Rough Lemon’ (RL) and the slow-growing Citrus reshni ‘Cleopatra Mandarin’ (CM).
Morphological traits of individual root orders of CM and RL, grown at different nitrate levels (NO3-N at 0·1, 0·5, 1 and 10 mm) were examined by using an image-specific analysis system.
Key Results
At high nitrate levels, the root length ratio, root mass ratio and, to a lesser degree, specific root length, root fineness and tissue density of tap and 1st-order laterals in both CM and RL were reduced. In 2nd-order laterals, however, the same treatment led to increased values of each morphological trait in CM but decreased values of the same traits in RL. At low nitrate supply, CM exhibited longer tap roots whereas RL developed longer 2nd-order laterals. These effects were due to root mass ratio and, to a lesser extent, specific root length.
Biomass allocation was the main component of nitrate-induced changes in root length ratio. The 2nd-order laterals were more sensitive to nitrate availability than the tap root and 1st-order laterals. At low nitrate availability, RL displayed longer 2nd-order lateral roots and lower root plasticity than CM. This suggests a different root growth strategy among citrus rootstocks for adapting to nitrate availability: RL invests in 2nd-order laterals, the preferred zone for acquiring the nutrient, whereas CM responds with longer tap roots.
PMCID: PMC2759249  PMID: 17881338
Root morphology; root orders; phenotypic plasticity; nitrate; Citrus jambhiri; Citrus reshni
17.  Intraspecific variation in root and leaf traits and leaf-root trait linkages in eight aspen demes (Populus tremula and P. tremuloides) 
Leaf and fine root morphology and physiology have been found to vary considerably among tree species, but not much is known about intraspecific variation in root traits and their relatedness to leaf traits. Various aspen progenies (Populus tremula and P. tremuloides) with different growth performance are used in short-rotation forestry. Hence, a better understanding of the link between root trait syndromes and the adaptation of a deme to a particular environment is essential in order to improve the match between planted varieties and their growth conditions. We examined the between-deme (genetic) and within-deme (mostly environmental) variation in important fine root traits [mean root diameter, specific root area (SRA) and specific root length (SRL), root tissue density (RTD), root tip abundance, root N concentration] and their co-variation with leaf traits [specific leaf area (SLA), leaf size, leaf N concentration] in eight genetically distinct P. tremula and P. tremuloides demes. Five of the six root traits varied significantly between the demes with largest genotypic variation in root tip abundance and lowest in mean root diameter and RTD (no significant difference). Within-deme variation in root morphology was as large as between-deme variation suggesting a relatively low genetic control. Significant relationships existed neither between SLA and SRA nor between leaf N and root N concentration in a plant. Contrary to expectation, high aboveground relative growth rates (RGR) were associated with large, and not small, fine root diameters with low SRA and SRL. Compared to leaf traits, the influence of root traits on RGR was generally low. We conclude that aspen exhibits large intraspecific variation in leaf and also in root morphological traits which is only partly explained by genetic distances. A root order-related analysis might give deeper insights into intraspecific root trait variation.
PMCID: PMC3801086  PMID: 24155751
fine root morphology; genetic variation; intraspecific variation; relative growth rate; root tissue density; specific root area
18.  Climate Warming and the Recent Treeline Shift in the European Alps: The Role of Geomorphological Factors in High-Altitude Sites 
Ambio  2010;40(3):264-273.
Global warming and the stronger regional temperature trends recently recorded over the European Alps have triggered several biological and physical dynamics in high-altitude environments. We defined the present treeline altitude in three valleys of a region in the western Italian Alps and reconstructed the past treeline position for the last three centuries in a nearly undisturbed site by means of a dendrochronological approach. We found that the treeline altitude in this region is mainly controlled by human impacts and geomorphological factors. The reconstruction of the altitudinal dynamics at the study site reveals that the treeline shifted upwards of 115 m over the period 1901–2000, reaching the altitude of 2505 m in 2000 and 2515 m in 2008. The recent treeline shift and the acceleration of tree colonization rates in the alpine belt can be mainly ascribed to the climatic input. However, we point out the increasing role of geomorphological factors in controlling the future treeline position and colonization patterns in high mountains.
PMCID: PMC3357808  PMID: 21644455
Climate change; Treeline; Geomorphology; Tree rings; Larix decidua; European Alps
19.  Variation of the Linkage of Root Function with Root Branch Order 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57153.
Mounting evidence has shown strong linkage of root function with root branch order. However, it is not known whether this linkage is consistent in different species. Here, root anatomic traits of the first five branch order were examined in five species differing in plant phylogeny and growth form in tropical and subtropical forests of south China. In Paramichelia baillonii, one tree species in Magnoliaceae, the intact cortex as well as mycorrhizal colonization existed even in the fifth-order root suggesting the preservation of absorption function in the higher-order roots. In contrast, dramatic decreases of cortex thickness and mycorrhizal colonization were observed from lower- to higher-order roots in three other tree species, Cunninghamia lanceolata, Acacia auriculiformis and Gordonia axillaries, which indicate the loss of absorption function. In a fern, Dicranopteris dichotoma, there were several cortex layers with prominently thickened cell wall and no mycorrhizal colonization in the third- and fourth-order roots, also demonstrating the loss of absorptive function in higher-order roots. Cluster analysis using these anatomic traits showed a different classification of root branch order in P. baillonii from other four species. As for the conduit diameter-density relationship in higher-order roots, the mechanism underpinning this relationship in P. baillonii was different from that in other species. In lower-order roots, different patterns of coefficient of variance for conduit diameter and density provided further evidence for the two types of linkage of root function with root branch order. These linkages corresponding to two types of ephemeral root modules have important implication in the prediction of terrestrial carbon cycling, although we caution that this study was pseudo-replicated. Future studies by sampling more species can test the generality of these two types of linkage.
PMCID: PMC3581569  PMID: 23451168
20.  Rhizoslides: paper-based growth system for non-destructive, high throughput phenotyping of root development by means of image analysis 
Plant Methods  2014;10:13.
A quantitative characterization of root system architecture is currently being attempted for various reasons. Non-destructive, rapid analyses of root system architecture are difficult to perform due to the hidden nature of the root. Hence, improved methods to measure root architecture are necessary to support knowledge-based plant breeding and to analyse root growth responses to environmental changes. Here, we report on the development of a novel method to reveal growth and architecture of maize root systems.
The method is based on the cultivation of different root types within several layers of two-dimensional, large (50 × 60 cm) plates (rhizoslides). A central plexiglass screen stabilizes the system and is covered on both sides with germination paper providing water and nutrients for the developing root, followed by a transparent cover foil to prevent the roots from falling dry and to stabilize the system. The embryonic roots grow hidden between a Plexiglas surface and paper, whereas crown roots grow visible between paper and the transparent cover. Long cultivation with good image quality up to 20 days (four fully developed leaves) was enhanced by suppressing fungi with a fungicide. Based on hyperspectral microscopy imaging, the quality of different germination papers was tested and three provided sufficient contrast to distinguish between roots and background (segmentation). Illumination, image acquisition and segmentation were optimised to facilitate efficient root image analysis. Several software packages were evaluated with regard to their precision and the time investment needed to measure root system architecture. The software 'Smart Root’ allowed precise evaluation of root development but needed substantial user interference. 'GiaRoots’ provided the best segmentation method for batch processing in combination with a good analysis of global root characteristics but overestimated root length due to thinning artefacts. 'WhinRhizo’ offered the most rapid and precise evaluation of root lengths in diameter classes, but had weaknesses with respect to image segmentation and analysis of root system architecture.
A new technique has been established for non-destructive root growth studies and quantification of architectural traits beyond seedlings stages. However, automation of the scanning process and appropriate software remains the bottleneck for high throughput analysis.
PMCID: PMC4105838  PMID: 25093035
Root system architecture; Maize; High-throughput; Imaging; Rhizoslide; Breeding; Agriculture
21.  Nine Years of Irrigation Cause Vegetation and Fine Root Shifts in a Water-Limited Pine Forest 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e96321.
Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris L.) in the inner-Alpine dry valleys of Switzerland have suffered from increased mortality during the past decades, which has been caused by longer and more frequent dry periods. In addition, a proceeding replacement of Scots pines by pubescent oaks (Quercus pubescens Willd.) has been observed. In 2003, an irrigation experiment was performed to track changes by reducing drought pressure on the natural pine forest. After nine years of irrigation, we observed major adaptations in the vegetation and shifts in Scots pine fine root abundance and structure. Irrigation permitted new plant species to assemble and promote canopy closure with a subsequent loss of herb and moss coverage. Fine root dry weight increased under irrigation and fine roots had a tendency to elongate. Structural composition of fine roots remained unaffected by irrigation, expressing preserved proportions of cellulose, lignin and phenolic substances. A shift to a more negative δ13C signal in the fine root C indicates an increased photosynthetic activity in irrigated pine trees. Using radiocarbon (14C) measurement, a reduced mean age of the fine roots in irrigated plots was revealed. The reason for this is either an increase in newly produced fine roots, supported by the increase in fine root biomass, or a reduced lifespan of fine roots which corresponds to an enhanced turnover rate. Overall, the responses belowground to irrigation are less conspicuous than the more rapid adaptations aboveground. Lagged and conservative adaptations of tree roots with decadal lifespans are challenging to detect, hence demanding for long-term surveys. Investigations concerning fine root turnover rate and degradation processes under a changing climate are crucial for a complete understanding of C cycling.
PMCID: PMC4011741  PMID: 24802642
22.  Redox states of glutathione and ascorbate in root tips of poplar (Populus tremula×P. alba) depend on phloem transport from the shoot to the roots 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2009;61(4):1065-1074.
Glutathione (GSH) and ascorbate (ASC) are important antioxidants that are involved in stress defence and cell proliferation of meristematic root cells. In principle, synthesis of ASC and GSH in the roots as well as ASC and GSH transport from the shoot to the roots by phloem mass flow is possible. However, it is not yet known whether the ASC and/or the GSH level in roots depends on the supply from the shoot. This was analysed by feeding mature leaves with [14C]ASC or [35S]GSH and subsequent detection of the radiolabel in different root fractions. Quantitative dependency of root ASC and GSH on shoot-derived ASC and GSH was investigated with poplar (Populus tremula×P. alba) trees interrupted in phloem transport. [35S]GSH is transported from mature leaves to the root tips, but is withdrawn from the phloem along the entire transport path. When phloem transport was interrupted, the GSH content in root tips halved within 3 d. [14C]ASC is also transported from mature leaves to the root tips but, in contrast to GSH, ASC is not removed from the phloem along the transport path. Accordingly, ASC accumulates in root tips. Interruption of phloem transport disturbed the level and the ASC redox state within the entire root system. Diminished total ASC levels were attributed mainly to a decline of dehydroascorbate (DHA). As the redox state of ASC is of particular significance for root growth and development, it is concluded that phloem transport of ASC may constitute a shoot to root signal to coordinate growth and development at the whole plant level.
PMCID: PMC2826650  PMID: 20022923
Ascorbate; glutathione; phloem transport; poplar; redox state; root growth
23.  Root biomass and soil carbon distribution in hybrid poplar riparian buffers, herbaceous riparian buffers and natural riparian woodlots on farmland 
SpringerPlus  2013;2:539.
The objectives of this study were to compare coarse root (diameter > 2 mm) and fine root (diameter < 2 mm) biomass, as well as distribution of soil carbon stocks in 3 types of riparian land uses across 4 sites located in farmland of southern Québec, Canada: (1) hybrid poplar buffers (9th growing season); (2) herbaceous buffers; (3) natural woodlots (varying in tree species and age). For all land uses most of the root biomass was within the 0–20 cm depth range. Total coarse root biomass, to a 60 cm depth, ranged from 8.8-73.7 t/ha in woodlots, 0.6-1.3 t/ha in herbaceous buffers, and 9.2-27.3 t/ha in poplars. Total fine root biomass ranged from 2.68-8.64 t/ha in woodlots, 2.60-3.29 t/ha in herbaceous buffers, and 1.86-2.62 t/ha in poplars. Total root biomass was similar or higher in poplar buffers compared to a 27 year-old grey birch forest. This indicates that poplar buffers accelerated riparian soil colonisation by roots compared to natural secondary succession. Generally, fine root biomass in the surface soil (0–20 cm) was lower in poplar than in herbaceous buffers; the reverse was observed at greater depth. Highest coarse root biomass in the 40–60 cm depth range was observed in a poplar buffer, highlighting the deep rooted nature of poplars. On average, total soil C stocks (0–60 cm) were greater in woodlots than in riparian buffers. On most sites, soil C stocks tended to be lower in poplar buffers compared to adjacent herbaceous buffers, especially in surface soil, probably because of lower fine root biomass in poplar buffers. Across all sites and land uses, highest soil C stocks at the different soil depths were found in the soil layers of woodlots that also had the greatest fine root biomass. Strong positive linear relationships between fine root biomass and soil C stocks in the 0–20 cm depth range (R2 = 0.79, p < 0.001), and in the whole soil profile (0–60 cm) (R2 = 0.65, p < 0.01), highlight the central role of fine root biomass in maintaining or increasing soil C stocks.
PMCID: PMC3825063  PMID: 24255839
Agroforestry; Afforestation; Agriculture; Land use; Coarse roots; Fine roots; Vertical distribution
24.  Responses of Fine Roots and Soil N Availability to Short-Term Nitrogen Fertilization in a Broad-Leaved Korean Pine Mixed Forest in Northeastern China 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e31042.
Knowledge of the responses of soil nitrogen (N) availability, fine root mass, production and turnover rates to atmospheric N deposition is crucial for understanding fine root dynamics and functioning in forest ecosystems. Fine root biomass and necromass, production and turnover rates, and soil nitrate-N and ammonium-N in relation to N fertilization (50 kg N ha−1 year−1) were investigated in a temperate forest over the growing season of 2010, using sequential soil cores and ingrowth cores methods. N fertilization increased soil nitrate-N by 16% (P<0.001) and ammonium-N by 6% (P<0.01) compared to control plots. Fine root biomass and necromass in 0–20 cm soil were 13% (4.61 vs. 5.23 Mg ha−1, P<0.001) and 34% (1.39 vs. 1.86 Mg ha−1, P<0.001) less in N fertilization plots than those in control plots. The fine root mass was significantly negatively correlated with soil N availability and nitrate-N contents, especially in 0–10 cm soil layer. Both fine root production and turnover rates increased with N fertilization, indicating a rapid underground carbon cycling in environment with high nitrogen levels. Although high N supply has been widely recognized to promote aboveground growth rates, the present study suggests that high levels of nitrogen supply may reduce the pool size of the underground carbon. Hence, we conclude that high levels of atmospheric N deposition will stimulate the belowground carbon cycling, leading to changes in the carbon balance between aboveground and underground storage. The implications of the present study suggest that carbon model and prediction need to take the effects of nitrogen deposition on underground system into account.
PMCID: PMC3295796  PMID: 22412833
25.  Girdling Affects Ectomycorrhizal Fungal (EMF) Diversity and Reveals Functional Differences in EMF Community Composition in a Beech Forest▿ † 
The relationships between plant carbon resources, soil carbon and nitrogen content, and ectomycorrhizal fungal (EMF) diversity in a monospecific, old-growth beech (Fagus sylvatica) forest were investigated by manipulating carbon flux by girdling. We hypothesized that disruption of the carbon supply would not affect diversity and EMF species numbers if EM fungi can be supplied by plant internal carbohydrate resources or would result in selective disappearance of EMF taxa because of differences in carbon demand of different fungi. Tree carbohydrate status, root demography, EMF colonization, and EMF taxon abundance were measured repeatedly during 1 year after girdling. Girdling did not affect root colonization but decreased EMF species richness of an estimated 79 to 90 taxa to about 40 taxa. Cenococcum geophilum, Lactarius blennius, and Tomentella lapida were dominant, colonizing about 70% of the root tips, and remained unaffected by girdling. Mainly cryptic EMF species disappeared. Therefore, the Shannon-Wiener index (H′) decreased but evenness was unaffected. H′ was positively correlated with glucose, fructose, and starch concentrations of fine roots and also with the ratio of dissolved organic carbon to dissolved organic nitrogen (DOC/DON), suggesting that both H′ and DOC/DON were governed by changes in belowground carbon allocation. Our results suggest that beech maintains numerous rare EMF species by recent photosynthate. These EM fungi may constitute biological insurance for adaptation to changing environmental conditions. The preservation of taxa previously not known to colonize beech may, thus, form an important reservoir for future forest development.
PMCID: PMC2837996  PMID: 20097809

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