Mean age of carbon in fine roots from temperate forests and grasslands with different management
Abstract. Fine roots are the most dynamic portion of a plant's root system and a major source of soil organic matter. By altering plant species diversity and composition, soil conditions and nutrient availability, and consequently belowground allocation and dynamics of root carbon (C) inputs, land-use and management changes may influence organic C storage in terrestrial ecosystems. In three German regions, we measured fine root radiocarbon (14C) content to estimate the mean time since C in root tissues was fixed from the atmosphere in 54 grassland and forest plots with different management and soil conditions. Although root biomass was on average greater in grasslands 5.1 ± 0.8 g (mean ± SE, n = 27) than in forests 3.1 ± 0.5 g (n = 27) (p < 0.05), the mean age of C in fine roots in forests averaged 11.3 ± 1.8 yr and was older and more variable compared to grasslands 1.7 ± 0.4 yr (p < 0.001). We further found that management affects the mean age of fine root C in temperate grasslands mediated by changes in plant species diversity and composition. Fine root mean C age is positively correlated with plant diversity (r = 0.65) and with the number of perennial species (r = 0.77). Fine root mean C age in grasslands was also affected by study region with averages of 0.7 ± 0.1 yr (n = 9) on mostly organic soils in northern Germany and of 1.8 ± 0.3 yr (n = 9) and 2.6 ± 0.3 (n = 9) in central and southern Germany (p < 0.05). This was probably due to differences in soil nutrient contents and soil moisture conditions between study regions, which affected plant species diversity and the presence of perennial species. Our results indicate more long-lived roots or internal redistribution of C in perennial species and suggest linkages between fine root C age and management in grasslands. These findings improve our ability to predict and model belowground C fluxes across broader spatial scales.