Date published:

Plant roots - complex functioning in the network of dependencies

Freschet GT, Roumet C, Comas LH, Weemstra M, Bengough AG, Rewald B, Bardgett RD, De Deyn GB, Johnson D, Klimešová J, Lukac M, McCormack ML, Meier IC, Pagès L, Poorter H, Prieto I, Wurzburger N, Zadworny M, Bagniewska-Zadworna A, Blancaflor EB, Brunner I, Gessler A, Hobbie SE, Iversen CM, Mommer L, Picon-Cochard C, Postma JA, Rose L, Ryser P, Scherer-Lorenzen M, Soudzilovskaia NA, Sun T, Valverde-Barrantes OJ, Weigelt A, York LM, Stokes A. 2021. Root traits as drivers of plant and ecosystem functioning: current understanding, pitfalls and future research needs. New Phytologist, 232(3):1123-1158. doi: 10.1111/nph.17072

Plants are powerful ecosystem engineers. Extending both above and belowground, sometimes to a great height and depth, they shape the biosphere and its interactions with the uppermost lithosphere, the hydrosphere and the atmosphere, being the key determinants of terrestrial ecosystem functioning. Indeed, plant roots and their symbionts are central to the maintenance of multiple ecosystem functions. Roots play a key role in the transformation and circulation of elements and mineral/organic compounds across the spheres, and particularly in the formation, maintenance and stabilisation of soils. However, despite the importance of plant root systems, new relationships are constantly being discovered that enable better understanding of the complex relationships between root traits and functions. Authors of the publication from the New Phytologist 2021, drawing on the literature in plant histology and histochemistry, physiology, ecophysiology, ecology, agronomy and soil science, reviewed different aspects of plant and ecosystem functioning and their relationships with a number of root system traits, including aspects of architecture, structure, physiology, biomechanics and biotic interactions. Nevertheless, the estimation of trait relative importance for different ecosystems functioning requires consideration of a more comprehensive range of functionally relevant traits from a diverse range of species, across environments and over time series. Therefore, the international team of authors of this work also advocate to establish causal hierarchical links among root traits that will provide a hypothesis-based framework identifying the most parsimonious sets of traits with the strongest links on functions, and linking individual genotypes to plant and ecosystem functioning. The key to fully understand the proper growth and development of a particular root system, within a plant species, is to take into account many root traits, based on data gathered from various habitats and different environments. Only a such approach guarantees a comprehensive understanding dependencies that determine plants and entire ecosystems functioning. The presented publication is based on the joint effort of a large team of experts, ecologists and biologists of plant roots, and may have potential importance not only for plant ecology, but also for agriculture and forestry.