Costs and benefits of constructing roots of small diameter

David M. Eissenstat

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536 Scopus citations


Roots represent a considerable carbon cost for plants. Further- more, plants vary considerably in how carbon is expended for belowground processes. One attribute that varies widely among species is the investment of root biomass in the production of root length. Relatively thin roots have a high specific root length (SRL) or length: dry weight ratio. Since water and nutrient uptake is based more upon root length than mass, one might conclude that species of high SRL invest their root biomass more efficiently than species of low SRL._This, however, ignores many other functional attributes of roots that may permit coarse lateral roots to be more adaptive than fine lateral roots under certain environmental conditions. In leaves, studies on the relationship of structure and function suggest that evergreen plants with greater leaf longevity commonly have thicker leaves, lower photosynthetic capacity, and lower respiration rates than deciduous plants. These kinds of relationships may also be true for thick roots (low SRL). Limited evidence suggests that species of high SRL tend to have greater plasticity in root growth, greater physiological capacity for water and nutrient uptake, but less root longevity and less mycorrhizal dependency than species of low SRL. More study is needed before the physiological traits associated with variation in length-biomass ratio are understood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)763-782
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Plant Nutrition
Issue number6-7
StatePublished - Jun 1 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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