Plant and Soil

, Volume 276, Issue 1–2, pp 23–32 | Cite as

Fine Root Dynamics in a Tropical Rain Forest is Influenced by Rainfall

  • J. J. Green
  • L. A. Dawson
  • J. Proctor
  • E. I. Duff
  • D. A. Elston


Quantifying patterns of fine root dynamics is crucial to the understanding of ecosystem structure and function, and in predicting how ecosystems respond to disturbance. Part of this understanding involves consideration of the carbon lost through root turnover. In the context of the rainfall pattern in the tropics, it was hypothesised that rainfall would strongly influence fine root biomass and longevity. A field study was conducted to determine root biomass, elemental composition and the influence of rainfall on longevity of fine roots in a tropical lowland evergreen rainforest at Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia. A combination of root coring, elemental analysis and rhizotron observation methods were used. Fine (less than 2 mm diameter) root biomass was relatively low (1700 kg ha −1) compared with previously described rainforest data. Standing root biomass was positively correlated with preceding rainfall, and the low fine root biomass in the dry season contained higher concentrations of N and lower concentrations of P and K than at other times. Observations on rhizotrons demonstrated that the decrease in fine root biomass in the dry season was a product of both a decrease in fine root length appearance and an increase in fine root length disappearance. Fitting an overall model to root survival time showed significant effects of rainfall preceding root disappearance, with the hazard of root disappearance decreasing by 8 for each 1 mm increase in the average daily (30 day) rainfall preceding root disappearance. While it is acknowledged that other factors have a part to play, this work demonstrates the importance of rainfall and soil moisture in influencing root biomass and root disappearance in this tropical rainforest.


biomass rainfall rhizotron root dynamics root survival sequential coring soil moisture 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen S E (1989) Chemical analysis of ecological materials. Blackwell Scientific PublicationsGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, LJ, Comas, LH, Lakso, AN., Eissenstat, DM 2003Multiple risk factors in root survivorship: a 4 year study in Concord grapeNew Phytol.158489501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Asamoah T E O (1984) Fruit tree root systems. Effect of nursery and orchard management and some consequences for growth, nutrient and water uptake. PhD thesis, University of LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Atkinson D., Dawson L A (2001) Root Growth: Methods of measurement Soil and Environmental Analysis. 2nd ed. K A Smith and C E Mullins. Marcel Dekker, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Berish, CW 1982Root biomass and surface area in three successional tropical forestsCan. J. For. Res.12699704Google Scholar
  6. Berish, CW., Ewel, JJ 1988Root development in simple and complex tropical successional ecosystemsPlant Soil1067384Google Scholar
  7. Burghouts TBA (1993) Spatial Heterogeneity of Nutrient Cycling in Bornean Rain Forest. PhD Thesis, Vrije Universiteit, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  8. Burke, MK., Raynal, DJ 1994Fine root growth phenology, production and turnover in a northern hardwood forest ecosystemPlant Soil162135146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cavelier J (1989) Root Biomass, Production and the Effect of Fertilisation in Two Tropical Rain Forests. PhD thesis, University of CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. Cavelier, J 1992Fine root and soil properties in a semi-deciduous and a lower montane rain forest in PanamaPlant Soil142187201Google Scholar
  11. Cavelier, J, Wright, SJ., Santamaria, J 1999Effects of irrigation on litterfall, fine root biomass and production in a semidecidous lowland forest in PanamaPlant Soil211207213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cote, B, Hendershot, WH, Fyles, JW, Roy, AG, Bradley, R, Biron, PM., Courchesne, F 1998The phenology of fine root growth in a maple dominated ecosystem: relationships with some soil propertiesPlant Soil2015969Google Scholar
  13. Dawkins HC (1958) The management of natural tropical high forest with special reference to Uganda. Commonwealth Forestry Institute Paper. 34Google Scholar
  14. Eissenstat, DM, Wells, CE, Yanai, RD., Whitbeck, JL. 2000Building roots in a changing environment: implications for root longevityNew Phytol.1473342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Eissenstat, DM., Yanai, RD 1997The ecology of root lifespan AdvEcol. Res.27260Google Scholar
  16. Fahey, TJ., Hughes, JW 1994Fine root dynamics in a northern hardwood forest ecosystem, Hunnard Brook Experimental ForestN H. J. Ecol.82533548Google Scholar
  17. Fogel R. (1991) Root system demography and production in forest ecosystems. In: Atkinson D. (ed). Plant Root Growth: An Ecological Perspective Special Publication No 10 of the British Ecological SocietyGoogle Scholar
  18. Gower, ST 1987Relations between mineral nutrient availability and fine root biomass in two Costa Rican tropical wet forests: a hypothesisBiotropica19171175Google Scholar
  19. Green J J (1992) Fine Root Dynamics in a Bornean Rain Forest PhD thesis, University of Stirling. Hendrick R L., Pregitzer K S 1992 Spatial variation in tree root distribution and growth associated with minirhizotrons. Plant Soil 143, 283-288Google Scholar
  20. Hendrick, RL., Pregitzer, KS 1996Temporal and depth related patterns of the fine root dynamics in northern hardwood forestsJ. Ecol.84167176Google Scholar
  21. Joslin, JD, Wolfe, MH., Hanson, PJ 2001Factors controlling the timing of root elongation intensity in a mature upland oak standPlant Soil228201212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kavanagh, T., Kellman, M 1992Seasonal pattern of fine root proliferation in a tropical dry forestBiotropica24157165Google Scholar
  23. Keyes, MR., Grier, CC 1981Above and below ground root production in 40 year old Douglas fir stands in low and high productivity sitesCan. J. For Res11599605Google Scholar
  24. King, JS, Albaugh, TJ, Allen, HL, Buford, M., Strain, BR 2002Seasonal dynamics of fine roots relative to foliage and stem growth in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) as affected by water and nutrient availabilityNew Phytol154389398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klinge, H 1975Root mass estimation in lowland tropical rain forests of central Amazonia, Brazil: III Nutrients in fine roots from giant humus podzolsTrop. Ecol.162838Google Scholar
  26. Lawson, GW, Armstrong-Mensah, K., Hall, JB 1970A catena in tropical moist semi-deciduous forest near Kade, GhanaJ. Ecol58371398Google Scholar
  27. Lee, ET 1992Statistical methods for survival data analysisWileyNew York482Google Scholar
  28. Lopez, B, Sabate, S., Gracia, C 1998Fine root dynamics in a Mediterranean forest: effects of drought and stem densityTree Physiol18601606PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. McClaugherty, CA, Aber, JD., Melillo, JM 1982The role of fine roots in the organic matter and nitrogen budgets of two forested ecosystemsEcology6314811490Google Scholar
  30. McGroddy, M., Silver, WL 2000Variations in belowground carbon storage and soil CO2 flux rates along a wet tropical climate gradientBiotropica32614624Google Scholar
  31. McKay, HM., Malcolm, DC 1988A comparison of the fine root component of a pure and mixed coniferous standCan. J. For Res.1814161426Google Scholar
  32. Majdi, H., Ohrvik, J 2004Interactive effects of soil warming and fertilization on root production, mortality and longevity in a Norway spruce stand in Northern SwedenGlobal Change Biol.10182188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nadelhoffer, KJ, Aber, JD., Melillo, JM 1985Fine roots, net primary production and soil nitrogen availability: A new hypothesisEcology6613771390Google Scholar
  34. Nambiar, EKS 1987Do nutrients retranslocate from fine roots?Can. J. For. Res.17913918Google Scholar
  35. Newbery DM, Campbell EJF, Lee YF., Ridscale CE (1992) Primary lowland dipterocarp forest at Danum valley, Sabah, Malaysia: structure, relative abundance and family composition Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. London B 335Google Scholar
  36. Nomura, N., Kikuzawa, K 2003Productive phenology of tropical montane forests: fertilization experiments along a moisture gradientEcol. Res.18573586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. North, GB., Noble, PS 1991Changes in hydraulic conductivity and anatomy caused by drying and rewetting roots of Agave deserti (Agavacae)Am. J. Bot.78906915Google Scholar
  38. Pregitzer, KS, Hendrick, RL., Fogel, R 1993The demography of fine roots in response to patches of water and nitrogenNew Phytol125575580Google Scholar
  39. Pregitzer, KS 2002Fine roots of trees-a new perspectiveNew Phytol154267273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pregitzer, KS 2003Woody plants, carbon allocation and fine rootsNew Phytol158421424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pregitzer, KS, Zak, DR, Curtis, PS, Kubiske, ME, Teerie, JA., Vogel, CS. 1995Atmospheric CO2 soil nitrogen and turnover of fine rootsNew Phytol.129579585Google Scholar
  42. Pregitzer, KS, Laskowski, MJ, Burton, AJ, Lessard, VC., Zak, DR 1998Variation in sugar maple root respiration with root diameter and soil depthTree Physiol.18665670PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Proctor J (1984) Tropical forest litterfall. II The data set. Tropical Rain-Forest: The Leeds Symposium eds S L Sutton., A C Chawick Blackwell Scientific Publications, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  44. Raich, JW 1980Fine roots regrow rapidly after forest fellingBiotropica.12231232Google Scholar
  45. Raich, JW., Nadelhoffer, RJ 1989Below-ground carbon allocations in forest ecosystems: Global trendsEcology7013461354Google Scholar
  46. Reich, PB, Walters, MB, Tjoelker, MG, Vanderklein, D., Buschena, C 1998Photosynthesis and respiration rates depend on leaf and root morphology and nitrogen concentration in nine boreal tree species differing in relative growth rateFunct. Ecol12395405Google Scholar
  47. Reynolds SG (1970) The gravimetric method of soil moisture determination. J. Hydrol. 11, 258-273, 274-287, 288-300Google Scholar
  48. Sanchez-Gallen, I., Alvarez-Sanchez, J 1996Root productivity in a lowland tropical forest in MexicoVegetatio123109115Google Scholar
  49. Sanford RL Jnr (1985) Root Ecology of Mature and Successional Amazonian Forests. PhD thesis, University of Califormia, BerkleyGoogle Scholar
  50. Sanford RL, Jnr 1989Fine root biomass under a tropical forest light gap opening in Costa RicaJ. Trop. Ecol.5251256Google Scholar
  51. Schuurman, JJ., Goedewaagen, MAJ 1971Methods for the examination of root systems and rootsPudocWageningen, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  52. Silver, WL., Vogt, KA 1993Fine root dynamics following single and multiple disturbances in a subtropical wet forest ecosystemJ. Ecol.81729738Google Scholar
  53. Vitousek, PM., Sanford Jnr, RL 1986Nutrient cycling in moist tropical forestsAnn. Rev. Ecol. System.17137167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vogt, KA, Vogt, DJ, Palmiotto, PA, Boon, P, Ohara, J., Asbjornsen, H 1996Review of root dynamics in forest ecosystems grouped by climate, climatic forest type and speciesPlant Soil187159219Google Scholar
  55. Vogt, KA, Publicover, DA, Bloomfield, J, Perez, JM, Vogt, DA., Silver, WL 1993Belowground responses as indicators of environmental changeEnviron. Exp. Bot.33189205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Yavitt, JB., Wright, SJ 2001Drought and irrigation effects on fine root dynamics in a tropical moist forest, PanamaBiotropica33421434Google Scholar
  57. Zhang, J., Davies, WJ 1990Abscisic acid produced in dehydrating roots may enable the plant to measure the water stress status of the soilPlant Cell Environ.127381Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. J. Green
    • 1
  • L. A. Dawson
    • 1
  • J. Proctor
    • 2
  • E. I. Duff
    • 3
  • D. A. Elston
    • 3
  1. 1.Plant Soil Microbial InteractionsMacaulay InstituteCraigiebucklerUK
  2. 2.Department of Biological and Molecular SciencesUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  3. 3.Biomathematics and Statistics ScotlandThe Macaulay InstituteCraigiebucklerUK

Personalised recommendations