Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Effects of root diameter, branch order, root depth, season and warming on root longevity in an alpine meadow

  • 415 Accesses

  • 5 Citations


Fine root is of importance in biogeochemical cycles especially in terrestrial ecosystems. The lack of understanding of the factors controlling root lifespan has made accurate prediction of carbon flow and nutrient cycling difficult. A controlled warming experiment was performed in an alpine meadow on the northern Tibetan Plateau (near Nagchu Town). We used a minirhizotron technique to measure root dynamics in situ during the growing season of 2013 and 2014 and survival analyses to assess root lifespan and the effects of root diameter, branch order, birth season, root depth and warming on root lifespan. Root diameter, branch order and root depth were all positively correlated with root lifespan. With an increase in diameter of 0.1 mm, mortality hazard ratio of roots declined by 19.3 %. An increase in one level in branch order was associated with a decrease of 43.8 % in root death ratio. Compared with roots born in May–mid-July, the mortality hazard ratio of roots born in late July–August and September–October reduced by 26.8 and 56.5 %, respectively. In warming treatments, roots tended to be thinner, less branched and deeper, and there was a higher proportion of roots born in spring compared to ambient conditions. Warming shortened the median root lifespan 44 days. However, in single warming condition, root diameter had no significant influence on root lifespan. Root diameter, branch order, root depth and season of birth were all factors affecting root lifespan in the alpine meadow; however, root branch order was dominant.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Anderson LJ, Comas LH, Lakso AN, Eissenstat DM (2003) Multiple risk factors in root survivorship: a 4-year study in Concord grape. New Phytol 158:489–501

  2. Atkin OK, Edwards EJ, Loveys BR (2000) Response of root respiration to changes in temperature and its relevance to global warming. New Phytol 147:141–154. doi:10.1046/j.1469-8137.2000.00683.x

  3. Baddeley JA, Watson CA (2005) Influences of root diameter, tree age, root depth and season on fine root survivorship in Prunus avium. Plant Soil 276:15–22. doi:10.1007/s11104-005-0263-6

  4. Bahn M, Knapp M, Garajova Z, Pfahringer N, Cernusca A (2006) Root respiration in temperate mountain grasslands differing in land use. Glob Chang Biol 12:995–1006

  5. Bai W et al (2010) Increased temperature and precipitation interact to affect root production, mortality, and turnover in a temperate steppe: implications for ecosystem C cycling. Glob Chang Biol 16:1306–1316

  6. Bai WM, Xia JY, Wan SQ, Zhang WH, Li LH (2012) Day and night warming have different effect on root lifespan. Biogeosciences 9:375–384

  7. Bardgett RD, Mommer L, De Vries FT (2014) Going underground: root traits as drivers of ecosystem processes. Trends Ecol Evol 29:692–699. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2014.10.006

  8. Beyer F, Hertel D, Leuschner C (2013) Fine root morphological and functional traits in Fagus sylvatica and Fraxinus excelsior saplings as dependent on species, root order and competition. Plant Soil 373:143–156. doi:10.1007/s11104-013-1752-7

  9. Brunner I, Godbold DL (2007) Tree roots in a changing world. J For Res-Jpn 12:78–82. doi:10.1007/s10310-006-0261-4

  10. Burton AJ, Pregitzer KS, Hendrick RL (2000) Relationships between fine root dynamics and nitrogen availability in Michigan northern hardwood forests. Oecologia 125:389–399

  11. Burton AJ, Pregitzer KS, Ruess RW, Hendrik RL, Allen MF (2002) Root respiration in North American forests: effects of nitrogen concentration and temperature across biomes. Oecologia 131:559–568. doi:10.1007/s00442-002-0931-7

  12. Carrillo Y, Dijkstra FA, Dan LC, Morgan JA, Blumenthal D, Waldron S et al (2014) Disentangling root responses to climate change in a semiarid grassland. Oecologia 175:699–711

  13. Chen HY, Brassard BW (2013) Intrinsic and extrinsic controls of fine root life span. Crit Rev Plant Sci 32:151–161

  14. Cox DR (1972) Regression models and life-tables. J R Stat Soc B 34:187–220

  15. Eissenstat DM, Wells CE, Yanai RD, Whitbeck JL (2000) Building roots in a changing environment: implications for root longevity. New Phytol 147:33–42

  16. Farrar JF, Jones DL (2000) The control of carbon acquisition by roots. New Phytol 147:43–53. doi:10.1046/j.1469-8137.2000.00688.x

  17. Finer L, Ohashi M, Noguchi K, Hirano Y (2011) Fine root production and turnover in forest ecosystems in relation to stand and environmental characteristics. For Ecol Manag 262:2008–2023. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2011.08.042

  18. Fitter AH, Self GK, Brown TK, Bogie DS, Graves JD, Benham D, Ineson P (1999) Root production and turnover in an upland grassland subjected to artificial soil warming respond to radiation flux and nutrients, not temperature. Oecologia 120:575–581

  19. Forbes PJ, Black KE, Hooker JE (1997) Temperature-induced alteration to root longevity in Lolium perenne. Plant Soil 190:87–90. doi:10.1023/A:1004298804353

  20. Gang H, Xue-yong Z, Padilla FM, Ha-lin Z (2012) Fine root dynamics and longevity of Artemisia halodendron reflect plant growth strategy in two contrasting habitats. J Arid Environ 79:1–7. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2011.11.010

  21. Gill RA, Burke IC, Lauenroth WK, Milchunas DG (2002) Longevity and turnover of roots in the shortgrass steppe: influence of diameter and depth. Plant Ecol 159:241–251

  22. Gordon WS, Jackson RB (2000) Nutrient concentrations in fine roots. Ecology 81:275–280

  23. Green IJ, Dawson LA, Proctor J, Duff EI, Elston DA (2005) Fine root dynamics in a tropical rain forest is influenced by rainfall. Plant Soil 276:23–32. doi:10.1007/s11104-004-0331-3

  24. Guo DL, Mitchell RJ, Hendricks JJ (2004) Fine root branch orders respond differentially to carbon source-sink manipulations in a longleaf pine forest. Oecologia 140:450–457

  25. Guo DL, Mitchell RJ, Withington JM, Fan PP, Hendricks JJ (2008) Endogenous and exogenous controls of root life span, mortality and nitrogen flux in a longleaf pine forest: root branch order predominates. J Ecol 96:737–745. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2745.2008.01385.x

  26. Hendrick RL, Pregitzer KS (1993) The dynamics of fine root length, biomass, and nitrogen content in two northern hardwood ecosystems. Can J For Res 23:2507–2520

  27. IPCC (2013) The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Climatic Change: the Physical Science Basis. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  28. Johnson MG, Phillips DL, Tingey DT, Storm MJ (2000) Effects of elevated CO2, N-fertilization, and season on survival of ponderosa pine fine roots. Can J For Res 30:220–228

  29. Johnson MG, Rygiewicz PT, Tingey DT, Phillips DL (2006) Elevated CO2 and elevated temperature have no effect on Douglas-fir fine-root dynamics in nitrogen-poor soil. New Phytol 170:345–356

  30. Jones RH, Mitchell RJ, Stevens G, Pecot S (2003) Controls of fine root dynamics across a gradient of gap sizes in a pine woodland. Oecologia 134:132–143. doi:10.1007/s00442-002-1098-y

  31. Kaplan EL, Meier P (1958) Nonparametric estimation from incomplete observations. J Am Stat Assoc 53:457–481

  32. Kato T, Tang YH, Gu S, Hirota M, Du MY, Li YN, Zhao XQ (2006) Temperature and biomass influences on interannual changes in CO2 exchange in an alpine meadow on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Glob Chang Biol 12:1285–1298

  33. Kern CC, Friend AL, Johnson JM, Coleman MD (2004) Fine root dynamics in a developing Populus deltoides plantation. Tree Physiol 24:651–660

  34. King JS, Pregitzer KS, Zak DR (1999) Clonal variation in above- and below-ground growth responses of Populus tremuloides Michaux: influence of soil warming and nutrient availability. Plant Soil 217:119–130. doi:10.1023/A:1004560311563

  35. King JS, Albaugh TJ, Allen HL, Buford M, Strain BR, Dougherty P (2002) Below-ground carbon input to soil is controlled by nutrient availability and fine root dynamics in loblolly pine. New Phytol 154:389–398

  36. Leppälammi-Kujansuu J, Salemaa M, Kleja DB, Linder S, Helmisaari HS (2014) Fine root turnover and litter production of Norway spruce in a long-term temperature and nutrient manipulation experiment. Plant Soil 374(1–2):73–88. doi:10.1007/s11104-013-1853-3

  37. Lin XW, Zhang ZH, Wang SP, Hu YG, Xu GP, Luo CY, Chang XF, Duan JC, Lin QY, Xu BRBY (2011) Response of ecosystem respiration to warming and grazing during the growing seasons in the alpine meadow on the Tibetan plateau. Agric For Meteorol 151:792–802

  38. Long YQ, Kong DL, Chen ZX, Zeng H (2013) Variation of the linkage of root function with root branch order. PLoS One 8:e57153

  39. Luo CY, Xu GP, Chao ZG, Wang SP, Lin XW, Hu YG, Zhang ZH, Duan JC, Chang XF, Su AL (2010) Effect of warming and grazing on litter mass loss and temperature sensitivity of litter and dung mass loss on the Tibetan plateau. Glob Chang Biol 16:1606–1617

  40. Majdi H, Ohrvik J (2004) Interactive effects of soil warming and fertilization on root production, mortality, and longevity in a Norway spruce stand in Northern Sweden. Glob Chang Biol 10:182–188. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8817.2003.00733.x

  41. McCormack ML, Guo DL (2014) Impacts of environmental factors on fine root lifespan. Front Plant Sci 5:205

  42. McCormack ML, Adams TS, Smithwick EA, Eissenstat DM (2012) Predicting fine root lifespan from plant functional traits in temperate trees. New Phytol 195:823–831

  43. McCormack ML, Dickie IA, Eissenstat DM, Fahey TJ, Fernandez CW, Guo DL, Helmisaari HS, Hobbie EA, Iversen CM, Jackson RB, Leppälammi-Kujansuu J, Norby RJ, Phillips RP, Pregitzer KS, Pritchard SG, Rewald B, Zadworny M (2015) Redefining fine roots improves understanding of below-ground contributions to terrestrial biosphere processes. New Phytol 207:505–518. doi:10.1111/nph.13363

  44. Norby RJ, Jackson RB (2000) Root dynamics and global change: seeking an ecosystem perspective. New Phytol 147:3–12

  45. Pilon R, Picon-Cochard C, Bloor JMG, Revaillot S, Kuhn E, Falcimagne Balandier RP, Soussana F (2012) Grassland root demography responses to multiple climate change drivers depend on root morphology. Plant Soil 364:395–408

  46. Pregitzer KS, Laskowski MJ, Burton AJ, Lessard VC, Zak DR (1998) Variation in sugar maple root respiration with root diameter and root depth. Tree Physiol 18:665–670

  47. Pregitzer KS, King JS, Burton AJ, Brown SE (2000) Responses of tree fine roots to temperature. New Phytol 147:105–115. doi:10.1046/j.1469-8137.2000.00689.x

  48. Pregitzer KS, DeForest JL, Burton AJ, Allen MF, Ruess RW, Hendrick RL (2002) Fine root architecture of nine North American trees. Ecol Monogr 72:293–309. doi:10.2307/3100029

  49. Pritchard SG, Strand AE, McCormack M, Davis MA, Finzi AC, Jackson RB, Matamala R, Rogers HH, Oren R (2008) Fine root dynamics in a loblolly pine forest are influenced by free-air-CO2-enrichment: a six-year-minirhizotron study. Glob Chang Biol 14:588–602. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2007.01523.x

  50. Stevens GN, Jones RH (2006) Patterns in soil fertility and root herbivory interact to influence fine-root dynamics. Ecology 87:616–624

  51. Su DX, Xue SM, zhou RJ (1994) The Tibet grassland resources. Science Press, Beijing

  52. Sun Y, Gu JC, Zhuang HF, Guo DL, Wang ZQ (2011) Lower order roots more palatable to herbivores: a case study with two temperate tree species. Plant Soil 347:351–361. doi:10.1007/s11104-011-0854-3

  53. Sun K, McCormack ML, Li L, Ma ZP, Guo DL (2016) Fast-cycling unit of root turnover in perennial herbaceous plants in a cold temperate ecosystem. Sci Rep 6:19698

  54. Tierney GL, Fahey TJ (2001) Evaluating minirhizotron estimates of fine root longevity and production in the forest floor of a temperate broadleaf forest. Plant Soil 229:167–176. doi:10.1023/A:1004829423160

  55. Tierney GL, Fahey TJ (2002) Fine root turnover in a northern hardwood forest: a direct comparison of the radiocarbon and minirhizotron methods. Can J For Res 32:1692–1697

  56. Tjoelker MG, Craine JM, Wedin D, Reich PB, Tilman D (2005) Linking leaf and root trait syndromes among 39 grassland and savannah species. New Phytol 167:493–508

  57. Wang SP, Duan JC, Xu GP, Wang YF, Zhang ZH, Rui YC, Luo CY, Xu BRBY, Zhu XX, Chang XF (2012) Effects of warming and grazing on soil N availability, species composition, and ANPP in an alpine meadow. Ecology 93:2365–2376

  58. Wang J et al (2015) Response of Kobresia pygmaea and Stipa purpurea grassland communities in northern Tibet to nitrogen and phosphate addition. Mt Res Dev 35:78–86. doi:10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-11-00104.1

  59. Wells CE, Eissenstat DM (2001) Marked differences in survivorship among apple roots of different diameters. Ecology 82:882–892

  60. Wells CE, Glenn DM, Eissenstat DM (2002a) Changes in the risk of fine-root mortality with age: a case study in peach, Prunus persica (Rosaceae). Am J Bot 89:79–87

  61. Wells CE, Glenn DM, Eissenstat DM (2002b) Soil insects alter fine root demography in peach (Prunus persica). Plant, Cell Environ 25:431–439. doi:10.1046/j.1365-3040.2002.00793.x

  62. Wu YB, Wu J, Deng YC, Tan HC, Du YG, Gu S, Tang YH, Cui XY (2010) Comprehensive assessments of root biomass and production in a Kobresia humilis meadow on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Plant Soil 338:497–510. doi:10.1007/s11104-010-0562-4

  63. Wu YB, Deng YC, Zhang J, Wu J, Tang YH, Cao GM, Zhang FW, Cui XY (2013) Root size and soil environments determine root lifespan: evidence from an alpine meadow on the Tibetan Plateau. Ecol Res 28:493–501. doi:10.1007/s11284-013-1038-9

  64. Wu YB, Zhang J, Deng YC, Wu J, Wang SP, Tang YH, Cui XY (2014) Effects of warming on root diameter, distribution, and longevity in an alpine meadow. Plant Ecol 215:1057–1066

  65. Xu ZF, Hu TX, Wang KY, Zhang YB, Xian JR (2009) Short-term responses of phenology, shoot growth and leaf traits of four alpine shrubs in a timberline ecotone to simulated global warming, Eastern Tibetan Plateau, China. Plant Species Biol 24:27–34. doi:10.1111/j.1442-1984.2009.00229.x

  66. Yang YH, Fang JY, Tang YH, Ji C, Zheng C, He J, Zhu B (2008) Storage, patterns and controls of soil organic carbon in the Tibetan grasslands. Glob Chang Biol 14:1592–1599

  67. Yang YH, Fang JY, Ji CJ, Han WX (2009) Above- and belowground biomass allocation in Tibetan grasslands. J Veg Sci 20:177–184

  68. Zhou H, Zhou L, Zhao X, Liu W, Li Y, Gu S, Zhou XZ (2006) Stability of alpine meadow ecosystem on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Chin Sci Bull 51:320–327

Download references


The National Basic Research Program of China (2013CB956302), the Key Technologies Research and Development Program of China (2011BAC09B03), the National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (41171044) supported the work. The experiments were conducted in Nagchu Alpine Grassland Ecosystem Research Station (Nagchu station). We are grateful to the Nagchu Station staff for their assistance in completing the experimental data collection and analysis. We also thank McCormack M Luke’s advices for the paper.

Author information

Correspondence to Jingsheng Wang.

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wang, Z., Ding, L., Wang, J. et al. Effects of root diameter, branch order, root depth, season and warming on root longevity in an alpine meadow. Ecol Res 31, 739–747 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-016-1385-4

Download citation


  • Alpine meadow
  • Global warming
  • Root lifespan
  • Root trait
  • Minirhizotron