Plant and Soil

, Volume 311, Issue 1–2, pp 189–199 | Cite as

The effects of water availability on root growth and morphology in an Amazon rainforest

  • Daniel B. MetcalfeEmail author
  • Patrick Meir
  • Luiz Eduardo O. C. Aragão
  • Antonio C. L. da Costa
  • Alan P. Braga
  • Paulo H. L. Gonçalves
  • Joao de Athaydes Silva Junior
  • Samuel S. de Almeida
  • Lorna A. Dawson
  • Yadvinder Malhi
  • Mathew Williams
Regular Article


This study examined how root growth and morphology were affected by variation in soil moisture at four Amazon rainforest sites with contrasting vegetation and soil types. Mean annual site root mass, length and surface area growth ranged between 3–7 t ha−1, 2–4 km m−2 and 8–12 m2 m−2 respectively. Mean site specific root length and surface area varied between 8–10 km kg−1 and 24–34 m2 kg−1. Growth of root mass, length and surface area was lower when soil water was depleted (P < 0.001) while specific root length and surface area showed the opposite pattern (P < 0.001). These results indicate that changes in root length and surface area per unit mass, and pulses in root growth to exploit transient periods of high soil water availability may be important means for trees in this ecosystem to increase nutrient and water uptake under seasonal and longer-term drought conditions.


Amazon rainforest Soil water availability Root mass growth Root length Root surface area Specific root length 



This research contributes to the Brazil-led Large Scale Biosphere—Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia. Work was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council (UK) PhD studentship and a Standard Research Grant (NER/A/S/2003/1609), a Royal Society (UK) Dudley Stamp Memorial Fund award, and an Elizabeth Sinclair Fund award (School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, UK). The authors would like to thank Leonardo Sá and Ima Vieira for their scientific support and collaboration, the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi for the use of its field station and laboratory facilities, and Bene and Joca for committed field work assistance.


  1. Andreae MO, Rosenfeld D, Artaxo P, Costa AA, Frank GP, Longo KM, Silva-Dias MAF (2004) Smoking rain clouds over the Amazon. Science 303:1337–1342PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkin OK, Edwards EJ, Loveys BR (2000) Response of root respiration to changes in temperature and its relevance to global warming. New Phytol 147:141–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berish CW (1982) Root biomass and surface area in three successional tropical forests. Can J Res 12:699–704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bengough AG, Bransby MF, Hans J, McKenna SJ, Roberts TJ, Valentine TA (2006) Root responses to soil physical conditions; growth dynamics from field to cell. J Exp Bot 57:437–447PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bingham IJ, Bengough AG (2003) Morphological plasticity of wheat and barley roots in response to spatial variation in soil strength. Plant Soil 250:273–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cannell MGR, Dewar RC (1994) Carbon allocation in trees: a review of concepts for modelling. Adv Ecol Res 25:59–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carvalheiro K, Nepstad D (1996) Deep soil heterogeneity and fine root distribution in forests and pastures of eastern Amazônia. Plant Soil 182:279–285Google Scholar
  8. Cavelier J, Wright SJ, Santamaria J (1999) Effects of irrigation, fine root biomass and production in a semideciduous lowland forest in Panama. Plant and Soil 211:207–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Comas LH, Anderson LJ, Dunst RM, Lakso AN, Eissenstat DM (2005) Canopy and environmental control of root dynamics in a long-term study of Concord grape. New Phytol 167:829–840PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Costa MH, Foley JA (2000) Combined effects of deforestation and doubled atmospheric CO2 concentrations on the climate of Amazonia. J Clim 13:18–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cuevas E, Medina E (1988) Nutrient dynamics in Amazonian forests. II. Fine root growth, nutrient availability and leaf litter decomposition. Oecologia 76:222–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davis JP, Haines B, Coleman D, Hendrick R (2004) Fine root dynamics along an elevational gradient in the southern Appalachian Mountains, USA. For Ecol Manage 187:19–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dickman DI, Nguyen PV, Pregitzer KS (1996) Effects of irrigation and coppicing on above-ground growth, physiology, and fine-root dynamics of two field-grown hybrid poplar clones. For Ecol Manage 80:163–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eissenstat DM, Wells CE, Yanai RD, Whitbeck JL (2000) Building roots in a changing environment: implications for root longevity. New Phytol 147:33–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Farquhar GD, Von Caemmerer S (1982) Modelling of photosynthetic response to the environment Physiological Plant Ecology II. In: Lange OL, Nobel PS, Osmond CB, Ziegler H (eds) Encyclopedia of plant physiology. New Series, Springer, Berlin, pp 549–587Google Scholar
  16. Farrish KW (1991) Spatial and temporal fine-root distribution in three Louisiana forest soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 55:1752–1757Google Scholar
  17. Fernandez OA, Caldwell MM (1975) Phenology and dynamics of root growth of three cool semi-desert shrubs under field conditions. J Ecol 63:703–714CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fisher RA, Williams M, do Vale RL, da Costa AL, Meir P (2006) Evidence from Amazonian forests is consistent with isohydric control of leaf water potential. Plant Cell Environ 29:151–165PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fisher RA, Williams M, Lola da Costa A, Malhi M, da Costa RF, Almeida S, Meir PW (2007). The response of an eastern Amazonian rain forest to drought stress: results and modelling analyses from a through-fall exclusion experiment. Glob Change Biol 13:2361–2378Google Scholar
  20. Fitter AH, Heinemeyer A, Staddon PL (2000) The impact of elevated CO2 and global climate change on arbuscular mycorrhizas: a mycocentric approach. New Phytol 147:179–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hendrick RL, Pregitzer KS (1993) Patterns of fine root mortality in two sugar maple forests. Nature 361:59–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hendrick RL, Pregitzer KS (1996) Temporal and depth-related patterns of fine root dynamics in northern hardwood forests. J Ecol 84:167–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hendrick RL, Pregitzer KS (1997) The relationship between fine root demography and soil environment in northern hardwood forests. Ecoscience 4:99–105Google Scholar
  24. Hendricks JJ, Hendrick RL, Wilson CA, Mitchell RJ, Pecot SD, Guo D (2006) Assessing the patterns and controls of fine root dynamics: an empirical test and methodological review. J Ecol 94:40–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Houghton RA, Lawrence KT, Hackler JL, Brown S (2001) The spatial distribution of forest biomass in the Brazilian Amazon: a comparison of estimates. Glob Change Biol 7:731–746CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (2001) Climate Change 2001: the scientific basis. In: Contribution of working group I to the third assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  27. Itoh S (1985) In situ measurement of rooting density by micro-rhizotron. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 31:653–656Google Scholar
  28. Jackson RB, Mooney HA, Schulze ED (1997) A global budget for fine root biomass, surface area, and nutrient contents. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 94:7362–7366PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jordan CF, Escalante G (1980) Root productivity in an Amazonian rain forest. Ecology 61:14–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Joslin JD, Wolfe MH, Hanson PJ (2000) Effects of altered water regimes on forest root systems. New Phytol 147:117–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lehmann J, Kern DC, Glaser B, Woods WI (2003) Amazonian Dark Earths: Origin, Properties, Management. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  32. Meisner CA, Karnok KJ (1992) Peanut root response to drought stress. Agron J 84:159–165Google Scholar
  33. Metcalfe DB, Meir P, Aragão LEOC, Malhi M, da Costa ACL, Braga A, Gonçalves PHL, de Athaydes J, de Almeida SS, Williams M (2007a) Factors controlling spatio-temporal variation in carbon dioxide efflux from surface litter, roots and soil organic matter at four rain forest sites in the eastern Amazon. Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences 112, G04001, doi: 10.1029/2007JG000443
  34. Metcalfe DB, Meir P, Williams M (2007b) A comparison of methods for converting rhizotron root length measurements into estimates of root mass production per unit ground area. Plant Soil 301:279–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Metcalfe DB, Williams M, Aragão LEOC, Da Costa ACL, De Almeida SS, Braga AP, Gonçalves PHL, De Athaydes Silva Junior, Malhi Y, Meir P (2007c) A method for extracting plant roots from soil which facilitates rapid samples processing without compromising measurement accuracy. New Phytol 174:697–703PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moutinho P, Nepstad D, Davidson DE (2003) Cutter ant Atta sexdens effects on soil, root distribution, and tree growth in a secondary forest of eastern Amazonia. Ecology 84:1265–1276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nadelhoffer KJ, Raich JW (1992) Fine root production estimates and belowground carbon allocation in forest ecosystems. Ecology 73:1139–1147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Norby RJ, Jackson RB (2000) Root dynamics and global change: seeking an ecosystem perspective. New Phytol 147:3–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pregitzer KS, King JS, Burton AJ, Brown SS (2000) Responses of tree fine roots to temperature. New Phytol 147:105–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Priess J, Then C, Folster H (1999) Litter and fine root production in three types of tropical premontane rain forest in SE Venezuela. Plant Ecol 143:171–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Roderstein M, Hertel D, Leuschner C (2005) Above- and below-ground litter production in three tropical montane forests in southern Ecuador. J Trop Ecol 21:483–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ruivo MLP, Cunha ES (2003) Mineral and organic components in archaeological black earth and yellow latosol in Caxiuanã, Amazon, Brazil. In: Tiezzi E, Brebbia CA, Uso JL (eds) Ecosystems and sustainable development. WIT, Southampton, pp 1113–1121Google Scholar
  43. Sanford RL (1990) Fine root biomass under light gap openings in an Amazon rain forest. Oecologia 83:541–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schoengart J, Junk WJ, Piedade MTF, Ayres JM, Hutterman A, Worbes M (2004) Teleconnection between tree growth in the Amazonian floodplains and the Niño-Southern Oscillation effect. Glob Change Biol 10:683–692CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Shukla J, Nobre C, Sellers P (1990) Amazon deforestation and climate change. Science 247:1322–1325PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schwarz PA, Law BE, Williams M, Irvine J, Kurpius M, Moore D (2004) Climatic versus biotic constraints on carbon and water fluxes in seasonally drought-affected ponderosa pine ecosystems. Glob Biogeochem Cycles doi: 101029/2004GB002234
  47. Sierra CA, Harmon ME, Moreno FH, Orrego SA, del Valle JI (2007) Spatial and temporal variability of net ecosystem production in a tropical forest: testing the hypothesis of a significant carbon sink. Glob Change Biol 13:838.853Google Scholar
  48. Silva Dias MAF, Rutledge S, Kabat P, Dias PLS, Nobre C, Fisch G et al (2002) Cloud and rain processes in a biosphere-atmosphere interaction context in the Amazon region. J Geophys Res-Atmos 107:8072–8084CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Silver WL, Thompson AW, Mcgroddy ME, Varner RK, Dias JD, Silva H et al (2005) Fine root dynamics and trace gas fluxes in two lowland tropical forest soils. Glob Change Biol 11:290–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sotta ED (2006) Soil carbon dioxide dynamics and nitrogen cycling in an eastern Amazonian rainforest, Caxiuana, Brazil. Ph.D. thesis, Georg-August-University of Göttingen, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  51. Steingrobe B, Schmid H, Claassen N (2000) The use of the ingrowth core method for measuring root production of arable crops—influence of soil conditions inside the ingrowth core on root growth. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 163:617–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sword MA, Gravatt DA, Faulkner PL, Chambers JL (1996) Seasonal branch and fine root growth of juvenile Loblolly pine five growing seasons after fertilization. Tree Physiol 16:899–904PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Thornley JHM (1972) A balanced quantitative model for root:shoot ratios in vegetative plants. Ann Bot (Lond) 36:431–441Google Scholar
  54. Torreano SJ, Morris LA (1998) Loblolly pine root growth and distribution under water stress. Soil Sci Soc Am J 62:818–827Google Scholar
  55. Trenberth KE, Hoar TJ (1997) El Niño and climate change. Geophys Res Lett 24:3057–3060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Trumbore SE, Gaudinski JB (2003) The secret lives of roots. Science 302:1344–1345PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Vogt KA, Vogt DJ, Bloomfield J (1998) Analysis of some direct and indirect methods of estimating root biomass and production of forests at an ecosystem level. Plant Soil 200:71–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. West JB, Espeleta JF, Donovan LA (2003) Root longevity and phenology differences between two co-occurring savanna bunchgrasses with different leaf habits. Funct Ecol 17:20–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Whalley WR, Bengough AG, Dexter AR (1998) Water stress induced by PEG decreases the maximum growth pressure of the roots of pea seedlings. J Exp Bot 49:1689–1694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Williams M, Malhi Y, Nobre AD, Rastetter EB, Grace J, Pereira MGP (1998) Seasonal variation in net carbon exchange and evapotranspiration in a Brazilian rain forest: a modelling analysis. Plant Cell Environ 21:953–968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zak DR, Pregitzer KS, King JS, Holmes WE (2000) Elevated atmospheric CO2, fine roots and the response of soil micro-organisms: a review and hypothesis. New Phytol 147:201–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel B. Metcalfe
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Patrick Meir
    • 1
  • Luiz Eduardo O. C. Aragão
    • 3
  • Antonio C. L. da Costa
    • 4
  • Alan P. Braga
    • 4
  • Paulo H. L. Gonçalves
    • 4
  • Joao de Athaydes Silva Junior
    • 4
  • Samuel S. de Almeida
    • 5
  • Lorna A. Dawson
    • 6
  • Yadvinder Malhi
    • 3
  • Mathew Williams
    • 7
  1. 1.Institute of GeographyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)UmeåSweden
  3. 3.Environmental Change Institute, Centre for the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.Centro de GeociênciasUniversidade Federal do ParáBelémBrazil
  5. 5.Coordenação de BotânicaMuseu Paraense Emilio GoeldiBelémBrazil
  6. 6.Macaulay Land Use Research InstituteAberdeenUK
  7. 7.Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental SciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

Personalised recommendations