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Acclimation of Fine Root Systems to Soil Warming: Comparison of an Experimental Setup and a Natural Soil Temperature Gradient

  • Kaarin Parts
  • Leho Tedersoo
  • Andreas Schindlbacher
  • Bjarni D. Sigurdsson
  • Niki I. W. Leblans
  • Edda S. Oddsdóttir
  • Werner Borken
  • Ivika Ostonen


Global warming is predicted to impact high-latitude and high-altitude forests severely, jeopardizing their overall functioning and carbon storage, both of which depend on the warming response of tree fine root systems. This paper investigates the effect of soil warming on the biomass, morphology and colonizing ectomycorrhizal community of spruce fine and absorptive fine roots. We compare the responses of spruce roots growing at a man-made long-term soil warming (+ 4°C) experiment to results obtained from a geothermal soil temperature gradient (+ 1 to + 14°C) extending to the forest die-off edge, to shed light on the generalizability of the warming response and reveal any thresholds in acclimation ability. Trees in warmer soils formed longer and less-branched absorptive roots with higher specific root length and area, and lower root tissue density in both spruce stands, irrespective of warming method and location. Soil warming at the experimental warming site also supported the occurrence of a more varied EcM community and an increase in the abundance of Tomentella spp., indicating a shift in nutrient foraging. Fine and absorptive fine root biomass decreased toward warmer soil, with a sharp reduction occurring between + 4 and + 6°C from the ambient and leading to the collapse of the fine root system at the geothermal gradient. At the experimental warming site, the applied + 4°C warming had no effect on fine and absorptive fine root biomass. The similar fine root responses at the two warming sites suggest that the observations possibly reflect general acclimation patterns in spruce forests to global warming.


climate change specific root length root tissue density root traits fine root biomass soil temperature gradient ectomycorrhiza boreal and temperate forests Picea sitchensis Picea abies 



We thank Krista Lõhmus for valuable discussions, Kessy Abarenkov for guidance with uploading the EcM fungal sequences, and Aale Puri, Aulis Puri, Laura Soon and Marta Arula for assistance in the laboratory. We acknowledge the EU through the European Regional Development Fund (Center of Excellence ENVIRON and EcolChange), the Estonian Ministry of Education, Research projects IUT2-16, IUT34-9 and Lydia and Felix Krabi Scholarship Fund for financial support. We are very grateful to ExpeER for financing the field work of Kaarin Parts and analyses of EcM fungal community samples at the Achenkirch experimental area. This work contributes to the Icelandic ForHot-Forest Project (IRF Fund, No. 163272-051), the CAR-ES Nordic Network, the ClimMani (ES1308) and the Biolink COST Actions (FP1305).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10021_2018_280_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2045 kb)
10021_2018_280_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (32 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 32 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  2. 2.Natural History Museum and Botanical GardenUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  3. 3.Department of Forest EcologyFederal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape – BFWViennaAustria
  4. 4.Agricultural University of IcelandHvanneyri, BorgarnesIceland
  5. 5.CREAFCerdanyola del VallésSpain
  6. 6.CSIC, Global Ecology Unit, CREAF-CSICUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterraSpain
  7. 7.Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  8. 8.Icelandic Forest Research MógilsáReykjavikIceland
  9. 9.Department of Soil EcologyUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany

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