Economic strategies of plant absorptive roots vary with root diameter
Abstract. Plant roots typically vary along a dominant ecological axis, the root economics spectrum, depicting a tradeoff between resource acquisition and conservation. For absorptive roots, which are mainly responsible for resource acquisition, we hypothesized that root economic strategies differ with increasing root diameter. To test this hypothesis, we used seven plant species (a fern, a conifer, and five angiosperms from south China) for which we separated absorptive roots into two categories: thin roots (thickness of root cortex plus epidermis < 247 µm) and thick roots. For each category, we analyzed a range of root traits related to resource acquisition and conservation, including root tissue density, different carbon (C), and nitrogen (N) fractions (i.e., extractive, acid-soluble, and acid-insoluble fractions) as well as root anatomical traits. The results showed significant relationships among root traits indicating an acquisition-conservation tradeoff for thin absorptive roots while no such trait relationships were found for thick absorptive roots. Similar results were found when reanalyzing data of a previous study including 96 plant species. The contrasting economic strategies between thin and thick absorptive roots, as revealed here, may provide a new perspective on our understanding of the root economics spectrum.