Root traits and biodiversity-ecosystem functioning
Plant roots perform multiple functions, including plant anchorage and belowground resource uptake, especially nitrogen, phosphorus and water. They have evolved a wide range of root traits to simultaneously perform these functions, which respond to spatial and temporal changes in soil properties and resource availabilities. Variation in root traits also implies large impacts on soil and ecosystem functions. However, despite the exponential interest towards root ecology, the connections of root traits to plant and ecosystem functioning remain poorly understood.
The development of a coherent root trait framework will allow a better prediction of plant community effects on ecosystem processes. The development of such an integrated framework will be particularly relevant for predicting effects of plant biodiversity on ecosystem functioning (BEF). There is consensus in BEF research that it is not plant species richness per se, but the value and range of functional traits of the species and their interactions that determine ecosystem functioning. Until now, the trait approach has only had limited success in BEF research. This may be due to the initial focus on aboveground traits, but also due to a lack of knowledge regarding the trait combinations driving ecosystem functions such as community producivity and nutrient cycling.
A recent success of this research theme is the PhD thesis of Lisette Bakker, which can be found here. Former lab members Monique Weemstra, Janneke Ravenek, Marloes Hendriks who also worked on different aspects of root traits in a biodiversity context.
Beyond my research team I have initiated the sROOT Initiative together with prof. dr. Alex Weigelt from University of Leipzig, Germany. This synthesisinitiative aims to understand root trait vatiation in whole-plant and ecosystem contexts.