Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Root and chemical traits


G. de la Riva, Enrique (2021), Root and chemical traits, Dryad, Dataset,


Many studies have quantified the functional variation of fine root traits to understand the overarching trade-off between maximizing resource acquisition or conservation (root economics spectrum -RES-). However, we know remarkably less on how plant strategies along the RES are actually constrained by the amount of photosynthates required to construct roots (i.e. construction costs, CC) or how belowground interactions with symbiotic organisms modify root trait patterns and their relationships with CC.

Our main aim was to quantify CC of fine roots (<2 mm) and their underlying components (carbon, minerals and organic nitrogen concentrations) in 60 Mediterranean woody species with contrasting symbiotic association types (ectomycorrhizas, arbuscular and ericoid mycorrhizas and N-fixing bacteria). We examined (1) if the covariation among fine root traits along the RES was related to the intrinsic cost of producing roots and if this relationship was dependent on the type of root symbiosis; (2) if the relationship of each CC component with the RES was dependent on the type of root symbiosis; and (3) whether soil water and nutrient availability determined differences in CC across sites.

According to the RES hypothesis, fine root traits showed a main covariation trend (acquisition vs. conservation), defined by the first PCA axis, which also segregated species by their two main contrasting symbiotic types (arbuscular and ectomycorrhizal). We found a positive relationship between root CC and the RES (i.e. PCA axis 1) and, interestingly, slopes differed among symbiotic types, in response to the different role of each specific CC component. In addition, independently of symbiotic type, root CC decreased linearly with soil nutrient availability and quadratically with plant water availability.

Synthesis. Our study demonstrates that woody plants display different functional strategies in their root CC, related with their position on the RES, and that CC differ among symbiotic groups. The influence of the root CC components across species varied among symbiotic associations, pointing to a trade-off between structural and metabolic compounds. Root CC were also strongly modulated by soil resource availability (nutrients and water). This study highlights that root CC are fundamental to better understand belowground resource use strategies.