J Plant Ecol ›› 2013, Vol. 6 ›› Issue (3): 211-219.doi: 10.1093/jpe/rts034

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Root and leaf functional trait relations in Poaceae species: implications of differing resource-acquisition strategies

Florian Fort*, Claire Jouany and Pablo Cruz   

  1. INRA, UMR 1248 AGIR, Centre de recherche de Toulouse, CS 52627, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, Cedex, France
  • Received:2012-07-03 Accepted:2012-10-06 Online:2012-11-02 Published:2013-05-22
  • Contact: Fort, Florian E-mail:florian.fort@toulouse.inra.fr

Abstract: Aims Root systems play an essential role in grassland functioning in both acquisition and storage of resources. Nevertheless, root functional traits have not received as much attention as those measured on above-ground organs, and little is known about their relations. Our objectives were to test whether morphological and root system traits allowed identification of grass species' functional strategies and to determine whether a relation exists between above- and below-ground traits.
Methods Functional traits of root tissues (specific root length, diameter, tissue density and nitrogen concentration), whole root systems (root mass, root length density, root mass percentage below a depth of 20cm and fine root %) and two major leaf traits (specific leaf area and leaf dry matter content) were determined under field conditions and their relations were analysed in eleven perennial temperate Poaceae species.
Important findings Canonical correspondence analysis along Axis 1 revealed a gradient of species, from those with deep, dense and coarse root systems with a large root mass to those with shallow root systems, thin roots and high specific root length; this suggests strong correlations among root traits. Correlations between specific root length and specific leaf area reveal two groups of species, which probably indicates different drought-tolerance capacities. Root trait syndromes enable ranking grasses along a gradient from conservative-strategy species (from stressful habitats), which display a deep and coarse root system, to acquisitive species (from rich and moist meadows), which display a shallow and thin root system. Although both types display similar above-ground strategies, drought-tolerant species have lower specific root lengths than drought-sensitive species, revealing more conservative root strategies.

Key words: root functional trait, functional group, grasses, root ecology, below-ground strategy

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