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Oecologia. 2009 Aug;161(1):99-111. doi: 10.1007/s00442-009-1352-7. Epub 2009 May 5.

Biomass and morphology of fine roots in temperate broad-leaved forests differing in tree species diversity: is there evidence of below-ground overyielding?

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Plant Ecology, Albrecht-von-Haller-Institute for Plant Sciences, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.


Biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning in forests have only recently attracted increasing attention. The vast majority of studies in forests have focused on above-ground responses to differences in tree species diversity, while systematic analyses of the effects of biodiversity on root systems are virtually non-existent. By investigating the fine root systems in 12 temperate deciduous forest stands in Central Europe, we tested the hypotheses that (1) stand fine root biomass increases with tree diversity, and (2) 'below-ground overyielding' of species-rich stands in terms of fine root biomass is the consequence of spatial niche segregation of the roots of different species. The selected stands represent a gradient in tree species diversity on similar bedrock from almost pure beech forests to medium-diverse forests built by beech, ash, and lime, and highly-diverse stands dominated by beech, ash, lime, maple, and hornbeam. We investigated fine root biomass and necromass at 24 profiles per stand and analyzed species differences in fine root morphology by microscopic analysis. Fine root biomass ranged from 440 to 480 g m(-2) in the species-poor to species-rich stands, with 63-77% being concentrated in the upper 20 cm of the soil. In contradiction to our two hypotheses, the differences in tree species diversity affected neither stand fine root biomass nor vertical root distribution patterns. Fine root morphology showed marked distinctions between species, but these root morphological differences did not lead to significant differences in fine root surface area or root tip number on a stand area basis. Moreover, differences in species composition of the stands did not alter fine root morphology of the species. We conclude that 'below-ground overyielding' in terms of fine root biomass does not occur in the species-rich stands, which is most likely caused by the absence of significant spatial segregation of the root systems of these late-successional species.

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