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A Global Fine-Root Ecology Database to Address Belowground Challenges in Plant Ecology
Published: February 28, 2017
Posted: April 27, 2017

FRED: The Fine-Root Ecology Database.

The Science  
Researchers have organized tens of thousands of data points describing the functional characteristics of small-diameter “fine” plant roots across environmental gradients into a single common framework, the Fine-Root Ecology Database (FRED). These data, which are freely available to the public (see, will improve understanding and model representation of belowground processes.

The Impact
Fine roots play an important role in ecosystem carbon, water, and nutrient cycling. However, fine-root traits are underrepresented in global trait databases, hindering efforts to link belowground plant function with changing environmental conditions and contributing to the coarse representation of fine roots in terrestrial biosphere models. FRED represents a critical step toward improving understanding of belowground plant ecology and its effects on ecosystem functioning.

Variation and tradeoffs within and among plant traits are increasingly being harnessed by empiricists and modelers to understand and predict ecosystem processes under changing environmental conditions. While fine roots play an important role in ecosystem functioning, fine-root traits are underrepresented in global trait databases. This deficiency has hindered efforts to analyze fine-root trait variation and link it with plant function and environmental conditions at a global scale. The new database called FRED, which so far includes more than 70,000 observations encompassing a broad range of root traits and also includes associated environmental data, represents a critical step toward improving understanding of belowground plant ecology. For example, FRED facilitates the quantification of variation in fine-root traits across root orders, species, biomes, and environmental gradients, while also providing a platform for assessments of covariation among root, leaf, and wood traits; the role of fine roots in ecosystem functioning; and the representation of fine roots in terrestrial biosphere models. Continued input of observations into FRED to fill gaps in trait coverage will improve understanding of changes in fine-root traits across space and time.

BER Program Manager
Daniel Stover
Terrestrial Ecosystem Science, SC-23.1 (301-903-0289)

Principal Investigator
Colleen M. Iversen, Senior Staff Scientist
Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN 37831 (865-214-3961)

The Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

Iversen, C. M., A. S. Powell, M. L. McCormack, C. B. Blackwood et al. “Viewpoint: A global Fine-Root Ecology Database to address belowground challenges in plant ecology.” New Phytologist 25(1), 15–26 (2017). [DOI:10.1111/nph.14486].

Iversen, C. M., A. S. Powell, M. L. McCormack, C. B. Blackwood. et al. 2016.“Fine-Root Ecology Database (FRED): A Global Collection of Root Trait Data with Coincident Site, Vegetation, Edaphic, and Climatic Data, Version 1.” Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, U.S.A. Access on-line at:

Related Links
FRED website
ORNL research highlight

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


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