Root dynamics and survival in a nutrient-poor and species-rich woodland under a drying climate
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Background and aims In Australia’s Mediterranean hyperdiverse vegetation, species that produce cluster roots to mobilise poorly-available nutrients (e.g. Banksia spp.) are an important functional and structural component. Cluster roots are only active during the wet season, indicating a strong dependence on suitable surface soil moisture conditions. Winter rainfall in this region is declining due to global climate change, with a delayed commencement of rains and a decline in precipitation. It is unknown how lower soil moisture levels will affect the root dynamics of these globally-significant plant communities. Methods We determined the root dynamics and root lifespan with minirhizotrons with or without irrigation to simulate reduced rainfall scenarios. Results We found a major effect of irrigation on the early production (0.24 m m-2 d-1 increase), occurrence (97% increase) of cluster roots and only slight effects on lifespan (~10 days less) of all root types. With irrigation, the resultant greater soil moisture levels increased the deployment of cluster roots. Apart from cluster roots, the dynamics of other roots did not decline at lower soil moisture levels, suggesting that this system shows some resilience to decreased rainfall. Conclusions Future research should focus on assessing if climate-altered cluster-root activity may be promoting compositional shifts in plant communities with additional restraining effects on root trait diversity.
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