Understanding root processes at the whole-plant or ecosystem scales requires an accounting of the range of functions within a root system. Studying root traits based on their branching order can be a powerful approach to understanding this complex system. The current study examined the highly branched root system of the ericoid plant, Vaccinium corymbosum L. (highbush blueberry) by classifying its root orders with a modified version of the morphometric approach similar to that used in hydrology for stream classification. Root anatomy provided valuable insight into variation in root function across orders. The more permanent portion of the root system occurred in 4th- and higher-order roots. Roots in these orders had radial growth; the lowest specific root length, N:C ratios, and mycorrhizal colonization; the highest tissue density and vessel number; and the coarsest root diameter. The ephemeral portion of the root system was mainly in the first three root orders. First- and 2nd-order roots were nearly anatomically identical, with similar mycorrhizal colonization and diameter, and also, despite being extremely fine, median lifespans were not very short (115-120 d; estimated with minirhizotrons). Our research underscores the value of examining root traits by root order and its implications to understanding belowground processes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Plant Science