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Root trait responses to drought are more heterogeneous than leaf trait responses


Lozano, Yudi M. et al. (2020), Root trait responses to drought are more heterogeneous than leaf trait responses, Dryad, Dataset,


Drought can strongly modify plant diversity and ecosystem processes. As droughts are expected to intensify in the future, it is important to better understand plant responses to this global driver. Root traits are an overlooked but powerful predictor of plant responses to drought because they are in direct contact with the soil environment and are responsible for taking up nutrients and water.

Here, we determine which root traits are sensitive to drought and the magnitude of that response. We also tested whether root trait relationships with shoot biomass are affected by drought and to what extent all these responses depend on plant species identity. To do so, we conducted a glasshouse experiment with 24 plant species grown in pots (10 replicates per species), which included grasses, forbs and legumes. All replicates were well watered during the first month and then half of them were kept under drought (30 % water holding capacity (WHC)), with the other half serving as control (70 % WHC). After two months of treatment, leaf and root traits were measured.

Leaf traits had a strong and more uniform response to drought compared to root traits. Root trait responses were variable and differed among plant species. Overall, grasses and several forbs had increased root diameter with drought while forbs had decreased specific root surface area (SRSA) and specific root length (SRL). Increase of root diameter and reduction of root elongation or sacrificing fine roots are different strategies that may promote nutrient and water acquisition, depending on plant species identity.

Our results identify changes in root morphological traits as mechanisms to likely tolerate drought and highlight that, although such drought responses are species-specific, they are phylogenetically clustered.


We set up an experiment in the glasshouse. Data were collected after harvest. 

Usage Notes

Missing values for Trifolium (Leaf dry matter content and Specific leaf area) 


German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Award: 01LC1501A