Topographical shifts in fine root lifespan in a mixed, mesic temperate forest

Edward J. Primka IV, Thomas S. Adams, Alexandra Buck, David M. Eissenstat

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3 Scopus citations


Root lifespan, often is estimated in landscape- and ecosystem-level carbon models using linear approximations. In water manipulation experiments, fine root lifespan can vary with soil water content. Soil water content is generally structured by complex topography, which is largely unaccounted for in landscape- and ecosystem-scale carbon models. Topography governs the range of soil water content experienced by roots which may impact their lifespan. We hypothesized that root lifespan varied nonlinearly across a temperate, mesic, forested catchment due to differences in soil water content associated with topographic position. We expected regions of the landscape that were too wet or too dry would have soils that were not optimal for roots and thus result in shorter root lifespans. Specifically, we hypothesized that root lifespan would be longest in areas that consistently had soil water content in the middle of the soil water content spectrum, while in soils at either very low or very high soil water content, root lifespan would be relatively short. We tested this hypothesis by collecting and analyzing two years of minirhizotron and soil moisture data in plots widely distributed in the Shale Hills catchment of the Susquehanna-Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory in Pennsylvania. We found that fine root lifespans were longer in traditionally wetter topographic regions, but detected no short term (biweekly) effect of soil moisture on root lifespan. Additionally, depth in soil, soil series, slope face orientation, and season of birth strongly affected root lifespans across the catchment. In contrast, lifespan was unaffected by root diameter or mycorrhizal association. Failure to account for these variables could result in erroneous estimates of fine root lifespan and, consequentially, carbon flux in temperate forested regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0254672
JournalPloS one
Issue number7 July
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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