Analysis of some direct and indirect methods for estimating root biomass and production of forests at an ecosystem level

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The relationship of global climate change to plant growth and the role of forests as sites of carbon sequestration have encouraged the refinement of the estimates of root biomass and production. However, tremendous controversy exists in the literature as to which is the best method to determine fine root biomass and production. This lack of consensus makes it difficult for researchers to determine which methods are most appropriate for their system. The sequential root coring method was the most commonly used method to collect root biomass data in the past and is still commonly used. But within the last decade the use of minirhizotrons has become a favorite method of many researchers. In addition, due to the high labor-intensive requirements of many of the direct approaches to determine root biomass, there has been a shift to develop indirect methods that would allow fine root biomass and production to be predicted using data on easily monitored variables that are highly correlated to root dynamics. Discussions occur as to which method should be used but without gathering data from the same site using different methods, these discussions can be futile. This paper discusses and compares the results of the most commonly used direct and indirect methods of determining root biomass and production: sequential root coring, ingrowth cores, minirhizotrons, carbon fluxes approach, nitrogen budget approach and correlations with abiotic resources. No consistent relationships were apparent when comparing several sites where at least one of the indirect and direct methods were used on the same site. Until the different root methods can be compared to some independently derived root biomass value obtained from total carbon budgets for systems, one root method cannot be stated to be the best and the method of choice will be determined from researcher's personal preference, experiences, equipment, and/or finances.

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