Global change and root lifespan

David M. Eissenstat, M. Luke McCormack, Quanying Du

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


Like other plant organs, roots have a life history in which they pass from birth to death. The size and population structure of the root system is determined by the birth rate and death rate of the individual roots. The study of root population dynamics is of interest to many disciplines, including crop science, physiology, ecology, and soil science. For example, a better understanding of root lifespan could enable agronomists and horticulturalists to increase yields while reducing agrochemical inputs. Severe root losses, such as those caused by drought or pathogens, clearly are not conducive to crop production. Growing too many roots, however, may also be undesirable, since large amounts of carbohydrates and mineral nutrients are needed for root growth and maintenance that otherwise might be allocated to photosynthetic organs or harvested parts. An optimization approach suggests that, other things being equal, total plant growth should be greatest when a root system maximizes water and nutrient acquisition per unit resource supplied from the shoot (e.g., Thornley 1998). If roots are produced in the most favorable soil patches and shed when they are no longer efficient in water and nutrient absorption, then production, theoretically, should be maximized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPlant Roots
Subtitle of host publicationThe Hidden Half, Fourth Edition
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781439846490
ISBN (Print)9781439846483
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Engineering


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