Journal Article

Plant traits and decomposition: are the relationships for roots comparable to those for leaves?

Marine Birouste, Elena Kazakou, Alain Blanchard and Catherine Roumet

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 2, pages 463-472
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online December 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcr297
Plant traits and decomposition: are the relationships for roots comparable to those for leaves?

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims

Fine root decomposition is an important determinant of nutrient and carbon cycling in grasslands; however, little is known about the factors controlling root decomposition among species. Our aim was to investigate whether interspecific variation in the potential decomposition rate of fine roots could be accounted for by root chemical and morphological traits, life history and taxonomic affiliation. We also investigated the co-ordinated variation in root and leaf traits and potential decomposition rates.

Methods

We analysed potential decomposition rates and the chemical and morphological traits of fine roots on 18 Mediterranean herbaceous species grown in controlled conditions. The results were compared with those obtained for leaves in a previous study conducted on similar species.

Key Results

Differences in the potential decomposition rates of fine roots between species were accounted for by root chemical composition, but not by morphological traits. The root potential decomposition rate varied with taxonomy, but not with life history. Poaceae, with high cellulose concentration and low concentrations of soluble compounds and phosphorus, decomposed more slowly than Asteraceae and Fabaceae. Patterns of root traits, including decomposition rate, mirrored those of leaf traits, resulting in a similar species clustering.

Conclusions

The highly co-ordinated variation of roots and leaves in terms of traits and potential decomposition rate suggests that changes in the functional composition of communities in response to anthropogenic changes will strongly affect biogeochemical cycles at the ecosystem level.

Keywords: Above-ground–below-ground interaction; chemical composition; interspecific variation; leaf decomposition; life history; Mediterranean species; morphology; plant functional traits; taxonomic families; root decomposition

Journal Article.  7692 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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