Responses of tree fine roots to temperature

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Soil temperature can influence the functioning of roots in many ways. If soil moisture and nutrient availability are adequate, rates of root length extension and root mortality increase with increasing soil temperature, at least up to an optimal temperature for root growth, which seems to vary among taxa. Root growth and root mortality are highly seasonal in perennial plants, with a flush of growth in spring and significant mortality in the fall. At present we do not understand whether root growth phenology responds to the same temperature cues that are known to control shoot growth. We also do not understand whether the flush of root growth in the spring depends on the utilization of stored nonstructural carbohydrates, or if it is fueled by current photosynthate. Root respiration increases exponentially with temperature, but Q10 values range widely from c. 1.5 to > 3.0. Significant questions yet to be resolved are: whether rates of root respiration acclimate to soil temperature, and what mechanisms control acclimation if it occurs. Limited data suggest that fine roots depend heavily on the import of new carbon (C) from the canopy during the growing season. We hypothesize that root growth and root respiration are tightly linked to whole-canopy assimilation through complex source-sink relationships within the plant. Our understanding of how the whole plant responds to dynamic changes in soil temperature, moisture and nutrient availability is poor, even though it is well known that multiple growth-limiting resources change simultaneously through time during a typical growing season. We review the interactions between soil temperature and other growth-limiting factors to illustrate how simple generalizations about temperature and root functioning can be misleading.

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New Phytologist