Text by Kaarin Parts
Global warming is predicted to impact high-latitude and high-altitude forests severely, jeopardizing their overall functioning and carbon storage, both of which depend on the warming response of tree fine root systems. This paper investigates the effect of soil warming on the biomass, morphology and colonizing ectomycorrhizal community of spruce fine and absorptive fine roots. Spruce was chosen for this study due to its economical importance and wide distribution in temperate and boreal European forests, while its shallow root system makes it especially susceptible to soil surface warming. We compared the responses of spruce roots growing at a man-made long-term soil warming (+ 4°C) experiment to results obtained from a geothermal soil temperature gradient (+ 1 to + 14°C) extending to the forest die-off edge, to shed light on the generalizability of the warming response and reveal any thresholds in acclimation ability.
Trees in warmer soils formed longer and less-branched absorptive roots with higher specific root length and area, and lower root tissue density in both spruce stands, irrespective of warming method and location. We attribute these changes to diminished root tip proliferation and reduced lifetime of absorptive roots, but also higher metabolic activity. Soil warming at the experimental warming site also supported the occurrence of a more varied ectomycorrhizal community and an increase in the abundance of Tomentella spp., indicating a shift in nutrient foraging. Fine and absorptive fine root biomass decreased toward warmer soil, with a sharp reduction occurring between + 4 and + 6°C from the ambient and leading to the collapse of the fine root system at the geothermal gradient. At the experimental warming site, the applied + 4°C warming had no effect on fine and absorptive fine root biomass. The similar fine root responses at the two warming sites suggest that the observations possibly reflect general acclimation patterns in spruce forests to global warming.
Citation: Parts, K., Tedersoo, L., Schindlbacher, A., Sigurdsson, B. D., Leblans, N. I. W., Oddsdottir, E. S., Borken, W., Ostonen, I. (2018). Acclimation of Fine Root Systems to Soil Warming: Comparison of an Experimental Setup and a Natural Soil Temperature Gradient. Ecosystems, DOI: 10.1007/s10021-018-0280-y (link to full text)