Fine root foraging strategies in Norway spruce forests across a European climate gradient

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Abstract

Fine root acclimation to different environmental conditions is crucial for growth and sustainability of forest trees. Relatively small changes in fine root standing biomass (FRB), morphology or mycorrhizal symbiosis may result in a large change in forest carbon, nutrient and water cycles. We elucidated the changes in fine root traits and associated ectomycorrhizal (EcM) fungi in 12 Norway spruce stands across a climatic and N deposition gradient from subarctic-boreal to temperate regions in Europe (68°N–48°N). We analysed the standing FRB and the ectomycorrhizal root tip biomass (EcMB, g m−2) simultaneously with measurements of the EcM root morphological traits (e.g. mean root length, root tissue density (RTD), N% in EcM roots) and frequency of dominating EcM fungi in different stands in relation to climate, soil and site characteristics. Latitude and N deposition explained the greatest proportion of variation in fine root traits. EcMB per stand basal area (BA) increased exponentially with latitude: by about 12.7 kg m−2 with an increase of 10° latitude from southern Germany to Estonia and southern Finland and by about 44.7 kg m−2 with next latitudinal 10° from southern to northern Finland. Boreal Norway spruce forests had 4.5 to 11 times more EcM root tips per stand BA, and the tips were 2.1 times longer, with 1.5 times higher RTD and about 1/3 lower N concentration. There was 19% higher proportion of root tips colonized by long-distance exploration type forming EcM fungi in the southern forests indicating importance of EcM symbiont foraging strategy in fine root nutrient acquisition. In the boreal zone, we predict ca. 50% decrease in EcMB per stand BA with an increase of 2 °C annual mean temperature. Different fine root foraging strategies in boreal and temperate forests highlight the importance of complex studies on respective regulatory mechanisms in changing climate.

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