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Root traits as drivers of plant and ecosystem functioning: current understanding, pitfalls and future research needs

Freschet, G., Roumet, C., Comas, L., Weemstra, M., Bengough, G., Rewald, B., Bardgett, R., Lukac, M. ORCID: and Stokes, A. (2021) Root traits as drivers of plant and ecosystem functioning: current understanding, pitfalls and future research needs. New Phytologist. ISSN 1469-8137

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/nph.17072


The effects of plants on the biosphere, atmosphere, and geosphere are key determinants of terrestrial ecosystem functioning. However, despite substantial progress made regarding plant belowground components, we are still only beginning to explore the complex relationships between root traits and functions. Drawing on literature in plant physiology, ecophysiology, ecology, agronomy and soil science, we review 24 aspects of plant and ecosystem functioning and their relationships with a number of traits of root systems, including aspects of architecture, physiology, morphology, anatomy, chemistry, biomechanics and biotic interactions. Based on this assessment, we critically evaluate the current strengths and gaps in our knowledge, and identify future research challenges in the field of root ecology. Most importantly, we found that below-ground traits with widest importance in plant and ecosystem functioning are not those most commonly measured. Also, the fair estimation of trait relative importance for functioning requires us to consider a more comprehensive range of functionally-relevant traits from a diverse range of species, across environments and over time series. We also advocate that establishing causal hierarchical links among root traits will provide a hypothesis-based framework to identify the most parsimonious sets of traits with strongest influence on the functions, and to link genotypes to plant and ecosystem functioning.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of Sustainable Land Management > Centre for Agri-environmental Research (CAER)
ID Code:93678


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