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Fire, drought, resprouting: leaf and root traits

October 22nd, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Drought and fire are prevalent disturbances in Mediterranean ecosystems. Plant species able to regrow after severe disturbances (i.e. resprouter life history) have higher allocation to roots and higher water potential during the dry season than coexisting non-resprouting species. However, non-resprouters have higher survival rate after summer drought. We expect that, to counteract their shallow-rooting systems and to maximize seedling survival, non-resprouters have traits that confer higher water-use efficiency and higher efficiency in soil resource acquisition than resprouters.

Some time ago we tested this prediction in relation to leaf traits [1] and found that non-resprouters have higher leaf mass per area (LMA; i.e. lower specific leaf area, SLA), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), area-based leaf nitrogen content (LNCa) and integrated water-use efficiency (δ13C) than resprouters, suggesting that they have higher potential for structural resistance to drought and higher water-use efficiency than resprouters.

In a recent paper we have now tested the prediction for root traits in seedlings [2]. We found that non-resprouters have higher specific root length (SRL) and longer, thinner and more branched lateral roots, especially in the upper soil layers. The external links (i.e. the most absorptive root region) are also more abundant, longer, thinner and with higher SVR for non-resprouters. Thus seedling root structure of non-resprouters species allows them to explore more efficiently the upper soil layer, whereas seedling roots of resprouters will permit both carbon storage and deep soil penetration.

Whereas resprouters tend to maximize the surface and the efficiency of the organs for carbon uptake to ensure carbohydrate storage for resprouting (eg, higher SLA), non-resprouters maximize the root surface (eg, higher SRL), since their survival and growth may be limited by soil resources.

[1] Paula S. & Pausas J.G. 2006. Leaf traits and resprouting ability in the Mediterranean basin. Functional Ecology 20: 941-947. [doi | pdf]

[2] Paula S. & Pausas J.G. 2011. Root traits explain different foraging strategies between resprouting life histories. Oecologia 165:321-331 [doi | pdf]

Specific Root Length

Relationship between average root diameter and specific root length (SRL; log-scale) for resprouting (R+, closed symbols) and non-resprouting (R-, open symbols) species. Intraspecific variability is indicated by segments emerging from each symbol. From Paula & Pausas (Oecologia [2]).

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