Deep roots and their functions in ecosystems

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Deep roots determine many ecosystem services but remain understudied, due to the challenges involved in the observation and measurement of deep roots. In this paper, Pierret et al. show that root structures and functions differ according to their depth and suggest that deep rooting systems could be more widespread than was previously thought.

Drawings of the above- and below-ground extension of the species Pinus sylvestris, Pimpinella saxifrage, Zygophullum xanthoxylo and Convolvulus tragacanthoides.
Drawings of the above- and below-ground extension of the species Pinus sylvestris, Pimpinella saxifrage, Zygophullum xanthoxylo and Convolvulus tragacanthoides. H/D is the ratio of the above-ground plant height divided by the maximum rooting depth (MRD). This figure illustrates the large inter-specific variability in H/D ratio and demonstrates the risk of establishing misleading allometric relationships between these parameters when MRD is not accurately determined (adapted from Kutschera et al., 1997).

Many accepted hypotheses about root traits and the drivers governing root functioning have been predominantly based upon observations and models of shallow rather than deep roots. The authors present examples to suggest that the position of roots within the soil profile determines their different structures and roles in major biochemical cycles. Formulating a framework for the analysis of deep root growth and functioning, this review proposes that increased knowledge pertaining to the deep rooting traits of a variety of crops and plants could have scope to influence the effective management of natural and cultivated ecosystems.

Root Biology Issue This paper is part of the Root Biology Special Issue.

Reference

Alain Pierret, Jean-Luc Maeght, Corentin Clément, Jean-Pierre Montoroi, Christian Hartmann, Santimaitree Gonkhamdee, 2016, 'Understanding deep roots and their functions in ecosystems: an advocacy for more unconventional research', Annals of Botany, vol. 118, no. 4, pp. 621-635 http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcw130


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