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Grassland species root response to drought: consequences for soil carbon and nitrogen availability

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>12/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Plant and Soil
Issue number1
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)297-312
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date23/06/16
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background and Aims

Root traits are increasingly used to predict how plants modify soil processes. Here, we assessed how drought-induced changes in root systems of four common grassland species affected C and N availability in soil. We hypothesized that drought would promote resource-conservative root traits such as high root tissue density (RTD) and low specific root length (SRL), and that these changes would result in higher soil N availability through decreased root N uptake, but lower C availability through reduced root exudation.


We subjected individual plants to drought under controlled conditions, and compared the response of their root biomass, root traits, and soil C and N availability, to control individuals.


Drought affected most root traits through reducing root biomass. Only SRL and RTD displayed plasticity; drought reduced SRL, and increased RTD in small plants but decreased RTD in larger plants. Reduced root biomass and a shift towards more resource-conservative root traits increased soil inorganic N availability but did not directly affect soil C availability.


These findings identify mechanisms through which drought-induced changes in root systems affect soil C and N availability, and contribute to our understanding of how root traits modify soil processes in a changing world.