U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


A New Fine-Root Database Addresses Belowground Challenges in Plant Ecology
Published: February 28, 2017
Posted: April 27, 2017

Map of Distinct Locations Associated with Observations in the Fine-Root Ecology Database (FRED). Shown are the locations of studies collecting root trait observations for plants growing outdoors, not in pots (closed blue circles, 979 distinct locations), and the locations of studies collecting root trait observations from plants growing in pots, outdoors or indoors, or from plants growing indoors in hydroponic systems or mesocosms (open blue circles, 54 distinct locations). Only about 60% of the root samples in FRED were associated with georeferenced locations; some locations were estimated from the study’s specified location for the purposes of this figure. [Image courtesy Iversen et al. 2017. “Viewpoint: A Global Fine-Root Ecology Database to Address Belowground Challenges in Plant Ecology,” New Phytologist, DOI: 10.111.nph.14486]

The global Fine-Root Ecology Database will improve understanding of belowground plant ecology and its effects on ecosystem functioning.

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 http://roots.ornl.gov), 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.

Summary
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.

Contacts (BER PM)
Daniel Stover
SC-23.1
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301) 903-0289

(PI Contact)
Colleen M. Iversen
Senior Staff Scientist
Environmental Sciences Division and
Climate Change Science Institute
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
iversencm@ornl.gov
(865) 214-3961

Funding
This work was supported in part by the U. S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program.

Publications
Iversen, C. M., M. L. McCormack, A. S. Powell, C. B. Blackwood, et al. 2017. “Viewpoint: A Global Fine-Root Ecology Database to Address Belowground Challenges in Plant Ecology,” New Phytologist, DOI: 10.1111/nph.14486. (Reference link)

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.3334/CDIAC/ornlsfa.005.

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-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER

 

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