A starting guide to root ecology: strengthening ecological concepts and standardising root classification, sampling, processing and trait measurements

Grégoire T. Freschet*, Loïc Pagès, Colleen M. Iversen, Louise H. Comas, Boris Rewald, Catherine Roumet, Jitka Klimešová, Marcin Zadworny, Hendrik Poorter, Johannes A. Postma, Thomas S. Adams, Agnieszka Bagniewska-Zadworna, A. Glyn Bengough, Elison B. Blancaflor, Ivano Brunner, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen, Eric Garnier, Arthur Gessler, Sarah E. Hobbie, Ina C. MeierLiesje Mommer, Catherine Picon-Cochard, Laura Rose, Peter Ryser, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, Nadejda A. Soudzilovskaia, Alexia Stokes, Tao Sun, Oscar J. Valverde-Barrantes, Monique Weemstra, Alexandra Weigelt, Nina Wurzburger, Larry M. York, Sarah A. Batterman, Moemy Gomes de Moraes, Štěpán Janeček, Hans Lambers, Verity Salmon, Nishanth Tharayil, M. Luke McCormack

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

In the context of a recent massive increase in research on plant root functions and their impact on the environment, root ecologists currently face many important challenges to keep on generating cutting-edge, meaningful and integrated knowledge. Consideration of the below-ground components in plant and ecosystem studies has been consistently called for in recent decades, but methodology is disparate and sometimes inappropriate. This handbook, based on the collective effort of a large team of experts, will improve trait comparisons across studies and integration of information across databases by providing standardised methods and controlled vocabularies. It is meant to be used not only as starting point by students and scientists who desire working on below-ground ecosystems, but also by experts for consolidating and broadening their views on multiple aspects of root ecology. Beyond the classical compilation of measurement protocols, we have synthesised recommendations from the literature to provide key background knowledge useful for: (1) defining below-ground plant entities and giving keys for their meaningful dissection, classification and naming beyond the classical fine-root vs coarse-root approach; (2) considering the specificity of root research to produce sound laboratory and field data; (3) describing typical, but overlooked steps for studying roots (e.g. root handling, cleaning and storage); and (4) gathering metadata necessary for the interpretation of results and their reuse. Most importantly, all root traits have been introduced with some degree of ecological context that will be a foundation for understanding their ecological meaning, their typical use and uncertainties, and some methodological and conceptual perspectives for future research. Considering all of this, we urge readers not to solely extract protocol recommendations for trait measurements from this work, but to take a moment to read and reflect on the extensive information contained in this broader guide to root ecology, including sections I–VII and the many introductions to each section and root trait description. Finally, it is critical to understand that a major aim of this guide is to help break down barriers between the many subdisciplines of root ecology and ecophysiology, broaden researchers’ views on the multiple aspects of root study and create favourable conditions for the inception of comprehensive experiments on the role of roots in plant and ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-1122
Number of pages150
JournalNew Phytologist
Volume232
Issue number3
Early online date5 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the many anonymous reviewers on this manuscript, as well as Philipp Grande, Richard van Logtestijn and Joana Bergmann for commenting on specific aspects of this manuscript. This work was supported by the New Phytologist Foundation via financial support to the 25 New Phytologist Workshop ‘Root traits as predictors of plant and soil functions: Aggregating current knowledge to build better foundations for root ecological science’, held in January 2019 in Montpellier, France. It also benefited from the support of two sDiv Workshops from the project sRoot ‘Towards understanding root trait variation and ecosystem functioning’, held in October 2018 and April 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. AB‐Z was supported by the grant no. 2012/07/E/NZ9/00194 from the National Science Centre, Poland. AG was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF; 31003A_159866). GTF was supported by the ‘Laboratoires d’Excellences (LABEX)’ TULIP (ANR‐10‐LABX‐41). ICM acknowledges financial support from the DFG (grant no. ME 4156/2‐1) and Volkswagen Foundation (grant no. 11‐76251‐99‐34/13 (ZN 2928)). JK was supported by Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (GA 19‐13103S). LC was supported by USDA‐ARS NP211 project 3012‐13000‐010‐00D. MZ was supported by the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. SAB was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/ M019497/1; NE/N012542/1) and the British Council (award 275556724). TS was supported by K.C. Wong Education Foundation and Key Research Programme of Frontier Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant QYZDB‐SSW‐DQC002). th

Funding Information:
We thank the many anonymous reviewers on this manuscript, as well as Philipp Grande, Richard van Logtestijn and Joana Bergmann for commenting on specific aspects of this manuscript. This work was supported by the New Phytologist Foundation via financial support to the 25th New Phytologist Workshop ?Root traits as predictors of plant and soil functions: Aggregating current knowledge to build better foundations for root ecological science?, held in January 2019 in Montpellier, France. It also benefited from the support of two sDiv Workshops from the project sRoot ?Towards understanding root trait variation and ecosystem functioning?, held in October 2018 and April 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. AB-Z was supported by the grant no. 2012/07/E/NZ9/00194 from the National Science Centre, Poland. AG was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF; 31003A_159866). GTF was supported by the ?Laboratoires d?Excellences (LABEX)? TULIP (ANR-10-LABX-41). ICM acknowledges financial support from the DFG (grant no. ME 4156/2-1) and Volkswagen Foundation (grant no. 11-76251-99-34/13 (ZN 2928)). JK was supported by Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (GA 19-13103S). LC was supported by USDA-ARS NP211 project 3012-13000-010-00D. MZ was supported by the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. SAB was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/ M019497/1; NE/N012542/1) and the British Council (award 275556724). TS was supported by K.C. Wong Education Foundation and Key Research Programme of Frontier Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant QYZDB-SSW-DQC002).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2021 New Phytologist Foundation

Keywords

  • below-ground ecology
  • handbook
  • plant root functions
  • protocol
  • root classification
  • root ecology
  • root traits
  • trait measurements

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