Root phenology in a changing climate

Laura Radville, M. Luke McCormack, Eric Post, David M. Eissenstat

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Plant phenology is one of the strongest indicators of ecological responses to climate change, and altered phenology can have pronounced effects on net primary production, species composition in local communities, greenhouse gas fluxes, and ecosystem processes. Although many studies have shown that aboveground plant phenology advances with warmer temperatures, demonstration of a comparable association for belowground phenology has been lacking because the factors that influence root phenology are poorly understood. Because roots can constitute a large fraction of plant biomass, and root phenology may not respond to warming in the same way as shoots, this represents an important knowledge gap in our understanding of how climate change will influence phenology and plant performance. We review studies of root phenology and provide suggestions to direct future research. Only 29% of examined studies approached root phenology quantitatively, strongly limiting interpretation of results across studies. Therefore, we suggest that researchers emphasize quantitative analyses in future phenological studies. We suggest that root initiation, peak growth, and root cessation may be under different controls. Root initiation and cessation may be more constrained by soil temperature and the timing of carbon availability, whereas the timing of peak root growth may represent trade-offs among competing plant sinks. Roots probably do not experience winter dormancy in the same way as shoots: 89% of the studies that examined winter phenology found evidence of growth during winter months. More research is needed to observe root phenology, and future studies should be careful to capture winter and early season phenology. This should be done quantitatively, with direct observations of root growth utilizing rhizotrons or minirhizotrons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3617-3628
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of experimental botany
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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