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Alaska's Changing Boreal Forest$
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F. Stuart Chapin, Mark W. Oswood, Keith Van Cleve, Leslie A. Viereck, and David L. Verbyla

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195154313

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195154313.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 04 December 2021

The Role of Fine Roots in the Functioning of Alaskan Boreal Forests

The Role of Fine Roots in the Functioning of Alaskan Boreal Forests

Chapter:
(p.189) 12 The Role of Fine Roots in the Functioning of Alaskan Boreal Forests
Source:
Alaska's Changing Boreal Forest
Author(s):

Roger W. Ruess

Ronald L. Hendrick

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195154313.003.0018

The patterns of production described in Chapter 11 tell only half of the story about boreal forest production because a large proportion of the carbon (C) acquired by plants is allocated belowground in ways that have traditionally been extremely difficult to quantify. Work in the Bonanza Creek LTER provides considerable insight into the patterns, causes, and consequences of this belowground C allocation. Belowground allocation has a number of important ecosystem consequences beyond the simple fact that C allocated belowground comes at the expense of aboveground growth. Belowground and aboveground tissues differ substantially in the rates of C and nitrogen (N) incorporation into new tissue, the ratio of growth to respiration, and the rate of tissue decay. For example, despite the small biomass of fine roots relative to aboveground tissues in forest ecosystems, disproportionate amounts of C and N cycle annually through fine roots, which grow, die, and decompose very rapidly and have high N concentrations (Hendrick and Pregitzer 1992, Ruess et al. 1996, 2003). The objectives of this chapter are to (1) summarize our understanding of the structure and function of fine-root systems in forest types within the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest, (2) compare our findings with the results of studies of other boreal and temperate ecosystems in order to develop a broader understanding of fine-root function, and (3) identify critical research gaps in our understanding of the role of fine-root systems in boreal ecosystem function. Fine roots grow more rapidly than the rest of the root system in a forest and are responsible for the bulk of nutrient and water acquisition. Until recently, fine roots were defined rather arbitrarily as roots less than 1–2 mm in diameter, while roots larger than this were considered coarse roots. Only one data set for fine and coarse root biomass has been published for interior Alaskan forests (Ruess et al. 1996), which shows (1) live fine-root biomass ranging from 221 g m-2 in floodplain white spruce stands to 832 g m-2 in upland birch-aspen stands, (2) a positive correlation between fine-root and coarse-root biomass, with coarse-root biomass averaging 50% greater than fine roots, and (3) no relationship between aboveground biomass and fine or coarse root biomass.

Keywords:   allocation, to fine roots, mycorrhizae, and fine-root processes, net primary production

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