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PLoS One. 2017 Oct 12;12(10):e0185934. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185934. eCollection 2017.

Unearthing the hidden world of roots: Root biomass and architecture differ among species within the same guild.

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ForestGEO, Agua Salud Project, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado, Balboa, Ancón, Panamá, Panamá.
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, United States of America.
Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Québec, Canada.
Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Irvine, Pennsylvania, United States of America.
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.


The potential benefits of planting trees have generated significant interest with respect to sequestering carbon and restoring other forest based ecosystem services. Reliable estimates of carbon stocks are pivotal for understanding the global carbon balance and for promoting initiatives to mitigate CO2 emissions through forest management. There are numerous studies employing allometric regression models that convert inventory into aboveground biomass (AGB) and carbon (C). Yet the majority of allometric regression models do not consider the root system nor do these equations provide detail on the architecture and shape of different species. The root system is a vital piece toward understanding the hidden form and function roots play in carbon accumulation, nutrient and plant water uptake, and groundwater infiltration. Work that estimates C in forests as well as models that are used to better understand the hydrologic function of trees need better characterization of tree roots. We harvested 40 trees of six different species, including their roots down to 2 mm in diameter and created species-specific and multi-species models to calculate aboveground (AGB), coarse root belowground biomass (BGB), and total biomass (TB). We also explore the relationship between crown structure and root structure. We found that BGB contributes ~27.6% of a tree's TB, lateral roots extend over 1.25 times the distance of crown extent, root allocation patterns varied among species, and that AGB is a strong predictor of TB. These findings highlight the potential importance of including the root system in C estimates and lend important insights into the function roots play in water cycling.

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