Substituting root numbers for length: Improving the use of minirhizotrons to study fine root dynamics

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Minirhizotrons provide a unique way to repeatedly measure the production and fate of individual root segments, while minimizing soil disturbance and the confounding of spatial-temporal variation. However, the time associated with processing videotaped minirhizotron images limits the amount of data that can be extracted in a reasonable amount of time. We found that this limitation can be minimized using a more easily measured variable r (i.e. root numbers) as a substitute of root length. Linear regression models were fitted between root length versus root number for production and mortality of seven sample datasets of varying tree species and treatments. The resulting r2 values ranged from 0.79 to 0.99, suggesting that changes in root numbers can be used to predict root length dynamics reliably. Slope values, representing the mean root segment length (MRSL), ranged from 2.34 to 8.38 mm per root segment for both production and mortality. Most treatments did not alter MRSL substantially, the exceptions being CO2 treatments and a girdling treatment that altered plant community composition and, consequently, root morphology. The high r2 values demonstrated arobust relationship between variables irrespective of species or treatments. Once the quantitative relationship between root lengths and numbers has been established for a particular species-treatment combination, quantifying changes in root number through time should substantially decrease the time required to quantify root dynamics. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

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Applied Soil Ecology