Gaul, D; Hertel, D; Borken, W; Matzner, E; Leuschner, C: Effects of experimental drought on the fine root system of mature Norway spruce, Forest Ecology and Management, 256, 1151-1159 (2008)
Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) is an economically important, but relatively drought-sensitive tree species that might suffer from increasing drought intensities and frequencies, which are predicted to occur in parts of central Europe under future climatic change. In a throughfall exclusion experiment using sub-canopy roofs, we tested the hypothesis that enhanced drought leads to an increase in fine root mortality, and also to a higher, subsequent fine root growth. Fine root production and mortality were assessed using two independent approaches, sequential soil coring (organic layer) and direct observations in minirhizotrons (organic layer plus upper mineral soil). Six weeks of throughfall exclusion resulted in mild drought stress, i.e. a reduction in average soil moisture from 20 to 12 vol.% during the treatment. Based on the sequential coring data, experimental drought did not result in significant changes in fine root biomass during the 6-week treatment period, but caused an increase in fine root mortality by 61% in the 6 weeks following the drought treatment. Remarkably, fine root production showed a synchronous increase in this period, which more than compensated for the loss due to increased mortality. The minirhizotron data confirmed that the drought treatment increased fine root loss in the organic layer. Based on this method, however, root loss occurred during the drought period and was not compensated by increased root production. The mild drought stress was mainly restricted to the organic layer and did not significantly influence fine root dynamics in the mineral soil. We calculated that the drought event resulted in an extra input of about 28 g C m−2 and 1.1 g N m−2 to the soil due to increased fine root mortality. We conclude that even periods of mild drought significantly increase fine root mortality and the associated input of root-derived C to the soil organic matter pool in temperate Norway spruce forests.
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