Plant and Soil

, Volume 299, Issue 1–2, pp 195–213 | Cite as

Spatial and temporal patterns of root distribution in developing stands of four woody crop species grown with drip irrigation and fertilization

Regular Article


In forest trees, roots mediate such significant carbon fluxes as primary production and soil CO2 efflux. Despite the central role of roots in these critical processes, information on root distribution during stand establishment is limited, yet must be described to accurately predict how various forest types, which are growing with a range of resource limitations, might respond to environmental change. This study reports root length density and biomass development in young stands of eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoidies Bartr.) and American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis L.) that have narrow, high resource site requirements, and compares them with sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua L.) and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.), which have more robust site requirements. Fine roots (<1 mm), medium roots (1 to 5 mm) and coarse roots (>5 mm) were sampled to determine spatial distribution in response to fertilizer and irrigation treatments delivered through drip irrigation tubes. Root length density and biomass were predominately controlled by stand development, depth and proximity to drip tubes. After accounting for this spatial and temporal variation, there was a significant increase in RLD with fertilization and irrigation for all genotypes. The response to fertilization was greater than that of irrigation. Both fine and coarse roots responded positively to resources delivered through the drip tube, indicating a whole-root-system response to resource enrichment and not just a feeder root response. The plastic response to drip tube water and nutrient enrichment demonstrate the capability of root systems to respond to supply heterogeneity by increasing acquisition surface. Fine-root biomass, root density and specific root length were greater for broadleaved species than pine. Roots of all genotypes explored the rooting volume within 2 years, but this occurred faster and to higher root length densities in broadleaved species, indicating they had greater initial opportunity for resource acquisition than pine. Sweetgum’s root characteristics and its response to resource availability were similar to the other broadleaved species, despite its functional resemblance to pine regarding robust site requirements. It was concluded that genotypes, irrigation and fertilization significantly influenced tree root system development, which varied spatially in response to resource-supply heterogeneity created by drip tubes. Knowledge of spatial and temporal patterns of root distribution in these stands will be used to interpret nutrient acquisition and soil respiration measurements.


Functional groups Root length density Soil heterogeneity Stand development Vertical root distribution Woody crops 



specific root length


root length density


control treatment






irrigation plus fertilization


horizontal distance from the tree parallel to the drip tube


horizontal distance from the tree perpendicular to the drip tube


eastern cottonwood clone from Issaquena County, MS, USA


eastern cottonwood clone from Brazos County, TX, USA


  1. Adegbidi HG, Comerford NB, Jokela EJ, Barros NF (2004) Root development of young loblolly pine in spodosols in southeast Georgia. Soil Sci Soc Am J 68:596–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Axelsson E, Axelsson B (1986) Changes in carbon allocation patterns in spruce and pine trees following irrigation and fertilization. Tree Physiol 2:189–204PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bauhus J, Messier C (1999) Soil exploitation strategies of fine roots in different tree species of the southern boreal forest of eastern Canada. Can J For Res 29:260–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Binkley D (1986) Forest nutrition management. Wiley, New York, p 290Google Scholar
  5. Bouillet JP, Laclau JP, Arnaud M, M’Bou AT, Saint-André L, Jourdan C (2002) Changes with age in the spatial distribution of roots of Eucalyptus clone in Congo – impact on water and nutrient uptake. For Ecol Manag 171:43–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boyer JS (1985) Water transport. Annu Rev Plant Physiol Plant Mol Biol 36:473–516CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burt CM, Styles SW (1994) Drip and microirrigation for trees, vines, and row crops. ITRC, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CAGoogle Scholar
  8. Chapin FS (1980) The mineral nutrition of wild plants. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 11:233–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chapin FS, Ruess RW (2001) Carbon cycle – the roots of the matter. Nature 411:749–752PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coleman MD, Dickson RE, Isebrands JG (2000) Contrasting fine-root production, survival and soil CO2 efflux in pine and poplar plantations. Plant Soil 225:129–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coleman MD, Coyle DR, Blake J, Britton K, Buford M, Campbell RG, Cox J, Cregg B, Daniels D, Jacobson M, Johnson K, McDonald T, McLeod K, Nelson E, Robison D, Rummer R, Sanchez F, Stanturf J, Stokes B, Trettin C, Tuskan J, Wright L, Wullschleger S (2004a) Production of short rotation woody crops grown with a range of nutrient and water availability: establishment report and first-year responses. USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Asheville, NC, USA, General Technical Report, SRS-72, p 21Google Scholar
  12. Coleman MD, Friend AL, Kern CC (2004b) Carbon allocation and nitrogen acquisition in a developing Populus deltoides plantation. Tree Physiol 24:1347–1357PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Comas LH, Eissenstat DM (2004) Linking fine root traits to maximum potential growth rate among 11 mature temperate tree species. Funct Ecol 18:388–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Connell MJ, Raison RJ, Khanna PK (1995) Nitrogen mineralization in relation to site history and soil properties for a range of Australian forest soils. Biol Fertil Soils 20:213–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coyle DR, Coleman MD (2005) Forest production responses to irrigation and fertilization are not explained by shifts in allocation. For Ecol Manag 208:137–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Drexhage M, Chauvière M, Colin F, Nielsen CNN (1999) Development of structural root architecture and allometry of Quercus petraea. Can J For Res 29:600–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Einsmann JC, Jones RH, Mou P, Mitchell RJ (1999) Nutrient foraging traits in 10 co-occurring plant species of contrasting life forms. J Ecol 87:609–619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Enquist BJ, Niklas KJ (2002) Global allocation rules for patterns of biomass partitioning in seed plants. Science 295:1517–1520PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fabião A, Madeira M, Steen E, Kätterer T, Ribeiro C, Araújo C (1995) Development of root biomass in an Eucalyptus-globulus plantation under different water and nutrient regimes. Plant Soil 168–169:215–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fitter AH (1991) The ecological significance of root system architecture: an economic approach. In: Atkinson D (ed) Plant root growth. An ecological perspective. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, pp 229–243Google Scholar
  21. Fredericksen TS, Zedaker SM (1995) Fine root biomass, distribution, and production in young pine-hardwood stands. New For 10:99–110Google Scholar
  22. Gale MR, Grigal DF (1987) Vertical root distributions of northern tree species in relation to successional status. Can J For Res 17:829–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Giardina CP, Ryan MG, Binkley D, Fownes JH (2003) Primary production and carbon allocation in relation to nutrient supply in a tropical experimental forest. Glob Chan Biol 9:1438–1450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gower ST, Vogt KA, Grier CC (1992) Carbon dynamics of Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir: influence of water and nutrient availability. Ecol Monogr 62:43–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Harley JL, Smith SE (1983) Mycorrhizal symbiosis. Academic, New York, p 483Google Scholar
  26. Harrington CA, DeBell DS (1996) Above- and below-ground characteristics associated with wind toppling in a young Populus plantation. Trees-structure and Function 11:109–118Google Scholar
  27. Hendrick RL, Pregitzer KS (1992) Spatial variation in tree root distribution and growth associated with minirhizotrons. Plant Soil 143:283–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hendricks JJ, Nadelhoffer KJ, Aber JD (1993) Assessing the role of fine roots in carbon and nutrient cycling. Trends Ecol Evol 8:174–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hodge A (2004) The plastic plant: root responses to heterogeneous supplies of nutrients. New Phytol 162:9–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hughes KA, Gandar PW (1993) Length densities, occupancies and weights of apple root systems. Plant Soil 148:211–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jackson RB, Canadell J, Ehleringer JR, Mooney HA, Sala OE, Schulze ED (1996) A global analysis of root distributions for terrestrial biomes. Oecologia 108:389–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jobbagy EG, Jackson RB (2001) The distribution of soil nutrients with depth: global patterns and the imprint of plants. Biogeochemistry 53:51–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Johnson JD (1990) Dry-matter partitioning in loblolly and slash pine: effects of fertilization and irrigation. For Ecol Manag 30:147–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Joslin JD, Wolfe MH, Hanson PJ (2000) Effects of altered water regimes on forest root systems. New Phytol 147:117–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kubiske ME, Pregitzer KS, Zak DR, Mikan CJ (1998) Growth and C allocation of Populus tremuloides genotypes in response to atmospheric CO2 and soil N availability. New Phytol 140:251–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Landsberg JJ, Waring RH (1997) A generalised model of forest productivity using simplified concepts of radiation-use efficiency, carbon balance and partitioning. For Ecol Manag 95:209–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Littell RC, Milliken GA, Stroup WW, Wolfinger RD (2006) SAS for mixed models. SAS Institute, Inc., Cary, NC, USA, p 633Google Scholar
  38. Luo Y, Zhou X (2006) Soil respiration and the environment. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp xi, 316, [314] of platesGoogle Scholar
  39. Luxmoore RJ, Cunningham M, Mann LK, Tjoelker MG (1993) Urea fertilization effects on nutrient uptake and growth of Platanus occidentalis during plantation establishment. Trees-structure and function 7:250–257Google Scholar
  40. Lyr H, Hoffmann G (1967) Growth rates and growth periodicity of roots. Int Rev For Res 2:181–236Google Scholar
  41. Majdi H (2001) Changes in fine root production and longevity in relation to water and nutrient availability in a Norway spruce stand in northern Sweden. Tree Physiol 21:1057–1061PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Misra RK, Turnbull CRA, Cromer RN, Gibbons AK, LaSala AV (1998) Below- and above-ground growth of Eucalyptus nitens in a young plantation. I. Biomass. For Ecol Manag 106:283–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mou P, Jones RH, Mitchell RJ, Zutter B (1995) Spatial-distribution of Roots in sweetgum and loblolly-pine monocultures and relations with aboveground biomass and soil nutrients. Funct Ecol 9:689–699CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mou P, Mitchell RJ, Jones RH (1997) Root distribution of two tree species under a heterogeneous nutrient environment. J Appl Ecol 34:645–656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nambiar EKS (1983) Root development and configuration in intensively managed radiata pine plantations. Plant Soil 71:37–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Nye PH, Tinker PB (1977) Solute movement in the soil–root system. Blackwell, Oxford, p 342Google Scholar
  47. O’Grady AP, Worledge D, Battaglia M (2005) Temporal and spatial changes in fine root distributions in a young Eucalyptus globulus stand in southern Tasmania. For Ecol Manag 214:373–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Patra AK, Jarvis SC, Hatch DJ (1999) Nitrogen mineralization in soil layers, soil particles and macro-organic matter under grassland. Biol Fertil Soils 29:38–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Persson H (1980) Fine-root dynamics in a Scots pine stand with and without near-optimum nutrient and water regimes. Acta Phytogeogr Suec 68:101–110Google Scholar
  50. Ponder HG, Gilliam CH, Evans CE (1984) Trickle irrigation of field-grown nursery stock based on net evaporation. Hortscience 19:304–306Google Scholar
  51. Pregitzer KS, Zak DR, Maziasz J, DeForest J, Curtis PS, Lussenhop J (2000) Interactive effects of atmospheric CO2 and soil-N availability on fine roots of Populus tremuloides. Ecol Appl 10:18–33Google Scholar
  52. Pregitzer KS, DeForest JL, Burton AJ, Allen MF, Ruess RW, Hendrick RL (2002) Fine root architecture of nine North American trees. Ecol Monogr 72:293–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pronk AA, De Willigen P, Heuvelink E, Challa H (2002) Development of fine and coarse roots of Thuja occidentalis ‘Brabant’ in non-irrigated and drip irrigated field plots. Plant Soil 243:161–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Reich PB, Walters MB, Tjoelker MG, Vanderklein D, Buschena C (1998) Photosynthesis and respiration rates depend on leaf and root morphology and nitrogen concentration in nine boreal tree species differing in relative growth rate. Funct Ecol 12:395–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Reynolds JF, Thornley JHM (1982) A shoot:root partioning model. Ann Bot 49:585–597Google Scholar
  56. Robinson D (1994) The responses of plants to non-uniform supplies of nutrients. New Phytol 127:635–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rogers VA (1990) Soil survey of savannah river plant area, parts of Aiken, Barnwell, and Allendale counties, South Carolina. USDA Soil Conservation Service, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  58. Rothe A, Binkley D (2001) Nutritional interactions in mixed species forests: a synthesis. Can J For Res 31:1855–1870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ruiz-Sánchez MC, Plana V, Ortuño MF, Tapia LM, Abrisqueta JM (2005) Spatial root distribution of apricot trees in different soil tillage practices. Plant Soil 272:211–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ryan MG, Law BE (2005) Interpreting, measuring, and modeling soil respiration. Biogeochemistry 73:3–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stewart JB, Moran CJ, Wood JT (1999) Macropore sheath: quantification of plant root and soil macropore association. Plant Soil 211:59–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Trumbore S (2006) Carbon respired by terrestrial ecosystems – recent progress and challenges. Glob Chang Biol 12:141–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Van Miegroet H, Norby RJ, Tschaplinski TJ (1994) Nitrogen fertilization strategies in short-rotation sycamore. For Ecol Manag 64:13–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Vogt KA, Vogt DJ, Moore EE, Fatuga BA, Redlin MR, Edmonds RL (1987) Conifer and angiosperm fine-root biomass in relation to stand age and site productivity in Douglas-fir forests. J Ecol 75:857–870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Waring RH, Schlesinger WH (1985) Forest ecosystems. Academic, Orlando, p 340Google Scholar
  66. Woolfolk WTM, Friend AL (2003) Growth response of cottonwood roots to varied NH4:NO3 ratios in enriched patches. Tree Physiol 23:427–432PubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Yanai RD, Fahey TJ, Miller SL (1995) Efficiency of nutrient acquisition by fine roots and mycorrhizae. In: Smith WK, Hinckley TM (eds) Resource physiology of conifers. Academic, San Diego, pp 75–103Google Scholar
  68. Zutter BR, Mitchell RJ, Glover GR, Gjerstad DH (1999) Root length and biomass in mixtures of broomsedge with loblolly pine or sweetgum. Can J For Res 29:926–933CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southern Research StationUSDA Forest ServiceAikenUSA

Personalised recommendations