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Title: Trade‐offs in rooting strategy dimensions along an edaphic gradient in a grassland ecosystem

Roots are essential to the diversity and functioning of plant communities, but trade‐offs in rooting strategies are still poorly understood.

We evaluated existing frameworks of rooting strategy trade‐offs and tested their underlying assumptions, guided by the hypothesis that community‐level rooting strategies are best described by a combination of variation in organ‐level traits, plant‐level root:shoot allocation and symbiosis‐level mycorrhizal dependency. We tested this hypothesis using data on plant community structure, above‐ and below‐ground biomass, eight root traits including mycorrhizal colonisation and soil properties from an edaphic gradient driven by elevation and water availability in sandhills prairie, Nebraska, USA.

We found multidimensional trade‐offs in rooting strategies represented by a two‐way productivity‐durability trade‐off axis (captured by root length density and root dry matter content) and a three‐way resource acquisition trade‐off between specific root length, root:shoot mass ratio and mycorrhizal dependence. Variation in rooting strategies was driven to similar extents by interspecific differences and intraspecific responses to soil properties.

Organ‐level traits alone were insufficient to capture community‐level trade‐offs in rooting strategies across the edaphic gradient. Instead, trait variation encompassing organ, plant and symbiosis levels revealed that consideration of whole‐plant phenotypic integration is essential to defining multidimensional trade‐offs shaping the functional variation of root systems.

Read the freePlain Language Summaryfor this article on the Journal blog.

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Functional Ecology
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Functional Ecology
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National Science Foundation
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