skip to main content


Title: Building a better foundation: improving root-trait measurements to understand and model plant and ecosystem processes

Trait-based approaches provide a useful framework to investigate plant strategies for resource acquisition, growth, and competition, as well as plant impacts on ecosystem processes. Despite significant progress capturing trait variation within and among stems and leaves, identification of trait syndromes within fine-root systems and between fine roots and other plant organs is limited. Here we discuss three underappreciated areas where focused measurements of fine-root traits can make significant contributions to ecosystem science. These include assessment of spatiotemporal variation in fine-root traits, integration of mycorrhizal fungi into fine-root-trait frameworks, and the need for improved scaling of traits measured on individual roots to ecosystem-level processes. Progress in each of these areas is providing opportunities to revisit how below-ground processes are represented in terrestrial biosphere models. Targeted measurements of fine-root traits with clear linkages to ecosystem processes and plant responses to environmental change are strongly needed to reduce empirical and model uncertainties. Further identifying how and when suites of root and whole-plant traits are coordinated or decoupled will ultimately provide a powerful tool for modeling plant form and function at local and global scales.
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [3] ;  [4] ;  [4] ; ORCiD logo [1] ;  [2] ;  [2] ;  [2] ;  [5] ;  [6] ;  [7] ;  [8]
  1. Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN (United States)
  2. Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Beijing (China)
  3. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
  4. Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA (United States)
  5. Forschungszentrum Julich (Germany)
  6. Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN (United States); Univ. of Western Sydney, NSW (Australia). Hawkesbury Inst. for the Environment
  7. Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS), Krakow (Poland)
  8. George Washington Univ., Washington, DC (United States)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
AC05-00OR22725; SC0012003
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
New Phytologist
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 215; Journal Issue: 1; Journal ID: ISSN 0028-646X
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States); Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC); USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23). Climate and Environmental Sciences Division
Country of Publication:
United States
59 BASIC BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES; 54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; roots; mycorrhizas; plant functional traits
OSTI Identifier:
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1400473; OSTI ID: 1419621