Plant and Soil

, Volume 355, Issue 1, pp 167–181

A new approach to estimate fine root production, mortality, and decomposition using litter bag experiments and soil core techniques

Regular Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11104-011-1090-6

Cite this article as:
Osawa, A. & Aizawa, R. Plant Soil (2012) 355: 167. doi:10.1007/s11104-011-1090-6



A new approach is proposed to estimate fine root production, mortality, and decomposition that occur simultaneously in terrestrial ecosystems utilizing sequential soil core sampling or ingrowth core techniques.


The calculation assumes knowledge of the decomposition rate of dead fine roots during a given time period from a litter bag experiment. A mass balance model of organic matter derived from live fine roots is applied with an assumption about fine root mortality and decomposition to estimate decomposed dead fine roots from variables that can be quantified.


Comparison of the estimated fine root dynamics with the decision matrix method and three new methods (forward estimate, continuous inflow estimate, and backward estimate) in a ca. 80-year-old Chamaecyparis obtusa plantation in central Japan showed that the decision matrix nearly always underestimated production, mortality, and decomposition by underscoring the values of the forward estimate, which theoretically underestimates the true value. The fine root production and mortality obtained by the decision matrix were on average 14% and 38% lower than those calculated by the continuous inflow estimate method. In addition, the values by the continuous inflow estimate method were always between those calculated by the forward estimate and backward estimate methods. The latter is known to overestimate the true value.


Therefore, we consider that the continuous inflow estimate method provides the best estimates of fine root production, mortality, and decomposition among the four approaches compared.


Continuous inflow estimateDecision matrixDecompositionFine rootsLitter bagMortalityProduction

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Forest and Biomaterials Sciences, Graduate School of AgricultureKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan