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Shifts in root dynamics along a hillslope in a mixed, mesic temperate forest

Abstract

Aims

Complex topography, a common feature of forested areas, generates unique environmental gradients that may shape root dynamics in unexpected ways. Nevertheless, belowground studies rarely capture the environmental gradients imposed by complex topography, such as those found along hillslopes. This begs the question: how much information is lost when complex topography is ignored? Hillslope is a common aspect of complex topography with landscape features that impact water flow, sediment transfer, and water and nutrient storage. We hypothesized that soil water content would have a nonlinear impact on fine-root production, mortality, standing crop, and turnover. Specifically, we expected increased mortality and decreased production, root standing crop, and turnover at the driest and wettest regions of the hillslope.

Methods

Using minirhizotron observations from 150 tubes located at 50 sites strategically placed at different hillslope positions across a first-order catchment, we examined how position along a hillslope impacts fine root dynamics.

Results

Contrary to our hypotheses, we found no significant hillslope effects on fine root tip production or mortality. Root tip turnover, however, was higher at drier than wetter regions of the hillslope. Additionally, fine root standing crop length was higher in wetter topographic regions.

Conclusions

Considering fine root tip turnover and length standing crop in combination with previous research on fine root lifespan suggest two distinct strategies of trees in root deployment along a hillslope: temporal avoidance in drier regions of a landscape (midslope planar and ridgetops) and extended survival of roots in wetter, deeper-soil regions like valley floor and swales.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and analyzed for this study can be found in the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory Data Site: http://www.czo.psu.edu/data_geospatial.html.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Tyler Wagner for his assistance with Bayesian modeling and Kusum Naithani for deriving spatial orientation of macroplots and minirhizotron tubes. We also thank Jeremy Harper, Molly Pash, and Mitchell Gresock for assistance with TDR construction and installation. Thanks also to Eva Beyen, Kerry Smith, Tiffany Reed, Mitchell Gresock, Myriah Wadley, and Neha Mehta for their assistance in root tracing. Thanks also to Brandon Forsythe for his assistance with precipitation data. The authors would also like to thank Alan Taylor, Erica Smithwick and especially Jason Kaye for suggestions that substantially improved this paper. This manuscript was previously published as part of a dissertation (Primka IV 2021). We also would like to thank Timothy Fahey and the two anonymous reviewers who helped improve this manuscript.

Funding

Support for this work was through the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological & Environmental Research, under Award Number DE-SC0012003. Work was also facilitated through the NSF Critical Zone Observatory program grants EAR – 0725019 (C. Duffy), EAR – 1239285 (S. Brantley), and EAR – 1331726 (S. Brantley). Logistical support and/or data were provided by the NSF-supported Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory. We also thank USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Hatch Appropriations for their funding under Project #PEN04744 and Accession #1023222. This research was conducted in Penn State’s Stone Valley Forest, which is supported and managed by the Penn State’s Stone Valley Forest, which is supported and managed by the Penn State’s Forestland Management Office in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

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Contributions

Conceived and designed study: DE. Contributed to revisions: DE, AB, and TA. Performed the study: EP, AB, and TA. Analyzed the data: EP. Contributed materials: DE. Installed instruments: TA, AB, and EP. Wrote the first draft of the paper: EP. All authors contributed to manuscript revision, read, and approved the submitted version.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Edward J. Primka IV or David M. Eissenstat.

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Primka, E.J., Adams, T.S., Buck, A.S. et al. Shifts in root dynamics along a hillslope in a mixed, mesic temperate forest. Plant Soil (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-022-05469-3

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Keywords

  • Minirhizotron
  • Fine root dynamics
  • Belowground ecology
  • Critical zone
  • Temperate forest