Plant productivity is very dependent on favourable interactions between the roots and soil. These interactions not only drive water and nutrient acquisition but they also affect the release of signals that influence all aspects of plant growth and development. Root–soil interactions are also critical for ecosystem services, including biodiversity and carbon sequestration. However, the intimate contact between roots and soil also make them vulnerable to biotic and abiotic stresses. Plants reduce these risks by modifying the rhizosphere and by perceiving and responding to pathogens, mineral stresses and competitors.
The complexity of the root–soil interface is daunting and notoriously difficult to examine in situ. This explains why strategies to improve plant production have largely neglected roots until relatively recently. Nevertheless there is a growing realization that the next breakthrough for increasing plant productivity will come, not by manipulating shoot traits, but by targeting these below-ground processes.
As our understanding of the physiology, ecology and genetics of root function advances we might recognise those conditions that benefit plant fitness under challenging conditions and then, perhaps, we will learn how to manipulate this complex environment to improve agriculture and the environment.
Undaunted by the challenges, the International Society of Root Research (ISRR) symposia tackle these important issues. The ninth symposium in the series will be held 6–9 October 2015 in Canberra Australia. The meeting will bring together leading scientists and industry experts to discuss root function in both agricultural and natural ecosystems. Annals of Botany will be releasing a Special Issue on Roots early 2016 with Guest Editors Peter Ryan, Michelle Watt and Anton Wasson, which will contain highlights from the meeting in Canberra. This is also an open call for submission of other papers on all aspects of root research, which can also be considered for inclusion in the Special Issue, following the usual peer-review process. If you have a manuscript that you would like us to consider, please send an outline (Title, Authors and 250–500 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31 July 2015. If agreed, the full paper would need to be submitted by 10 October 2015, in order to enter the full review process.