Special Issue "The Hidden Side of Functional Diversity: Evolution, Ecology and Biogeography of Fine Roots in Woody Plants"

A special issue of Forests (ISSN 1999-4907). This special issue belongs to the section "Forest Ecophysiology and Biology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 20 July 2020.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Oscar J. Valverde-Barrantes
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
International Center on Tropical Botany (ICTB), Florida International University, Miami, USA
Interests: root morphology; functional traits; community ecology; plant evolution; mycorrhizal communities; plant-microbe interactions; root ecology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The lack of information around how root traits vary among environments and throughout the history of plant evolution has limited the study of plant evolutionary ecology, ecosystem functioning, and species effects on C cycles. Fine roots, the most distal portions of roots, usually <1 mm in diameter, are the major type of plant tissue that contributes to soil organic matter and are key drivers of mineral weathering and microbial dynamics. Moreover, alterations in root morphology and physiology were likely critical in the surge of leaf photosynthetic capacity during the expansion of angiosperms in the Creataceous era. Despite the overwhelming importance of fine root traits for biogeochemical cycles, basic information about their evolution and ecology is lacking, particularly compared to the remarkable progress in understanding ecology and evolution of leaves and stems.

Tests of hypotheses regarding root trait syndromes have been particularly hampered due to (1) a paucity of systematically collected data and (2) the complexity of root functioning and traits. Contrary to other plant organs, the collection and identification of root systems did not developed as a field of research to this date. Perhaps due to the challenges associated with collection and identification of organs embedded in soil, detailed description of root systems is available only in a small proportion of species, mostly in temperate areas, severely biasing our knowledge toward an ecologically and phylogenetically restricted group. Tropical areas in particular are grossly underrepresented. Moreover, the sensitivity of root biomass to soil heterogeneity may have created the impression that all root traits are inherently plastic and highly similar among species. However, we now know that intraspecific variation is much smaller than interspecific variation in many communities and that relatedness is an important driver of root trait syndromes. Another complication is that root traits are the result of complex evolutionary interactions with soil microbial communities, particularly mycorrhizal fungi. However, few studies have investigated the evolutionary relationship between changes in root traits and the dependency on mycorrhizal partners, particularly in tropical forests.

This Special Issue mainly focuses on describing the drivers of fine root traits in tree species, and how those traits can affect plant fitness and ecosystem services of forests and tree crops in tropical areas. We emphasize on studies that focus on the acquisition portion of the root system and search for potential mechanisms explaining interspecific variation and plasticity across environmental gradients. We welcome the submission of research reports and review papers.

Dr. Oscar J. Valverde-Barrantes
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Forests is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Woody plants
  • Belowground ecology
  • Fine root functional traits
  • Root morphology
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Plant microbiome
  • Plant evolution
  • Fungi

Published Papers (1 paper)

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Open AccessArticle
Functional Trait Plasticity but Not Coordination Differs in Absorptive and Transport Fine Roots in Response to Soil Depth
Forests 2020, 11(1), 42; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11010042 - 27 Dec 2019
Absorptive and transport fine roots (diameter ≤ 2 mm) differ greatly in anatomy, morphology, and physiology, as well as their responses to environmental changes. However, it is still not well understood how their functional traits and biomass repartition respond to resource variability associated [...] Read more.
Absorptive and transport fine roots (diameter ≤ 2 mm) differ greatly in anatomy, morphology, and physiology, as well as their responses to environmental changes. However, it is still not well understood how their functional traits and biomass repartition respond to resource variability associated with increasing soil depth. Herein, we sampled the first five order roots of three hardwoods, i.e., Juglans mandshurica Maxim., Fraxinus mandshurica Rupr., and Phellodendron amurense Rupr. at surface (0–10 cm) and subsurface (20–30 cm) soil layers, respectively, and measured root biomass, anatomy, morphology, chemistry, and physiology at the branch-order level. Based on the anatomical characteristics, absorptive and transport fine roots were identified within each order, and their amounts and functional trait plasticity to soil depth were examined. The results showed that across soil layers, the first three order roots were mainly absorptive roots, while the fourth- and fifth-order roots were transport ones. From surface to subsurface soil layers, both the number and biomass proportion of absorptive fine roots decreased but those of transport fine roots increased. Transport fine root traits were more plastic to soil depth than absorptive ones, especially for the conduit-related traits. Absorptive fine roots in surface soil generally had stronger potential for resource acquisition than those in deeper soil, as indicated by their longer specific root length and greater root branching density. In comparison, transport fine roots in deeper soil were generally enhanced in their transportation function, with wider stele and higher hydraulic conductivity. Our findings suggest that functional specialization via multi-trait plasticity and coordination in both absorptive and transport fine roots along the soil depth would benefit the efficient soil resource exploitation of trees in forest ecosystems. Full article
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