Louise Comas, Plant Physiologist
United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service
Topic: Root functional traits for water and nutrient acquisition linked to plant strategies: unpacking the black box
Resource availability has long been recognized for playing a major role in structuring plant communities. Nonetheless, a functional understanding of root traits, their plasticity, and their interactions with soil organisms involved in acquiring those resources has largely remained out of focus and outside mainstream ecology. Several patterns of root trait variation can be identified associated with plant strategies for resource acquisition. Fine-root morphological traits are also associated with the evolution of different types of mycorrhizal fungi. Root traits have shifted across evolutionary time frames corresponding to climatic warming and drying, such that more recently diverged species appeared to adapt to a warmer and drier climate by evolving finer roots and less reliance on mycorrhizal fungi. Plant growth strategies can be extended to include root hydraulic properties. Root traits of shade intolerant species are consistent with the ability to proliferate roots quickly for rapid water uptake needed to support rapid shoot growth, while minimizing risk in uncertain environments. The awareness of root functional traits is growing and the ‘black box’ of belowground plant strategies opening as belowground plant traits are recognized for their important role in governing plant success as well as impacts on ecosystem functioning.
Host Lab: Holbrook