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Fine root production, turnover, and decomposition in a fast-growth Eucalyptus urophylla plantation in southern China

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A rapid increase of Eucalyptus plantation area in southern China has raised widespread attention in the field of ecology and forestry. It might be argued that fast-growth Eucalyptus would increase the consumption of resources and thus cause soil degradation. Fine root dynamics could provide insight into nutrient uptake or return. This study therefore focused on fine root production, turnover, and decomposition in a subtropical Eucalyptus urophylla plantation.

Materials and methods

Sequential coring method was used to estimate fine root production and turnover rate. Root decomposition rate and root nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) dynamics were determined using the litterbag method. In this study, roots were divided into three diameter classes: <1, 1–2, and 2–3 mm. We settled litterbags with all three different root diameter classes under the forest floor (0–10 cm) in winter, spring, and summer.

Results and discussion

The total production of fine roots at diameter <2 mm was 45.4 g m−2 year−1, and its turnover rate was 0.58 year−1. The roots at diameter <1 mm showed much greater production or turnover rate than those at diameter 1–2 mm. The root mass loss from litterbag across the three diameter classes (<1, 1–2, and 2–3 mm) was similar at the beginning period of 180 days, but significantly different later. The decomposition constant (k value) of roots estimated by exponential decay model decreased with increasing diameter class. In addition, the season of litterbag settlement also had effects on root mass loss. In root nutrient dynamics, the fractions of initial N immobilized increased with increasing diameter class. Root P at the three diameter classes showed a similar mineralization pattern.


Our studies on fine root production, turnover, and decomposition give some important insights into nutrient cycling between plant and soil in Eucalyptus plantations. Our results which show that fine roots had relatively low production and turnover rate partly explain the potential soil degradation under the short rotation systems. The variation of root dynamics among different diameter classes suggests that to accurately assess fine root roles, one should consider the effects of root diameter size.

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This study was supported by 973 Program 2011CB403202. We thank Dr. Wenjuan Huang for her help in English improvement. We thank Dingsheng Mo for his help in litterbag preparation and Shengxing Fu for his help in sampling. We also thank Zhuoyin Lai, Hongying Li, and Juan Miao for their help in root chemical analysis.

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Correspondence to Junhua Yan.

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Responsible editor: Hailong Wang

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Xu, W., Liu, J., Liu, X. et al. Fine root production, turnover, and decomposition in a fast-growth Eucalyptus urophylla plantation in southern China. J Soils Sediments 13, 1150–1160 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-013-0718-y

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  • Decomposition constant (k value)
  • Eucalyptus plantations
  • Fine roots
  • Litterbag settlement season
  • Root diameter class
  • Soil temperature