Skip to content

Root functions are multiple and essential for plant growth and survival. They include nutrient and water acquisition, resource storage, support of symbiotic soil microbes and anchorage. At the ecosystem level, they contribute to soil structure and to the carbon and nutrient cycles.

Researchers of the IRNAS-CSIC, in collaboration with the University of Seville and the University of Cordoba, have studied the variation of 27 root traits (morphological, chemical and isotopic) in seven tree species planted in the Guadiamar Green Corridor (Seville, Spain). Three of the species are deciduous: white poplar (Populus alba), narrow-leafed ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) and hackberry (Celtis autralis). While the other four species are evergreen: stone pine (Pinus pinea), holm oak (Quercus ilex), wild olive (Olea europaea) and carob (Ceratonia siliqua).

The main variation trend observed in the root traits supports the “root economics spectrum” hypothesis. There is a trade-off between tree species having lighter roots and higher length per mass unit, which maximizes soil resource acquisition and thus they grow faster on favourable conditions. On the contrary, tree species with denser roots and lower specific length tend to have resource conservation and slower growth, on adverse conditions.

Besides the main trend, there are other dimensions reflecting the root multifunctionality. 1) The root carbon concentration was not correlated with the morphological variables. 2) the ability to bind trace elements (for example, Pb and Cd) to root cells tends to be associated with the plant tolerance to soil contamination by metals. 3) The fractionation of 15N in roots is a time-integrated trait of mycorrhizal mediated nutrition.

In general, roots and leaves are functionally coordinated. The fast acquisition and processing of water and nutrients by the roots must be coupled with fast acquisition and processing of carbon by leaves. However, there was strong discordance between roots and leaves, with regards to the accumulation of several trace elements.

Soil conditions, and metal contamination in particular, affect morphological and chemical traits of tree roots. There are reciprocal interactions and feedback processes between soil and tree roots.

A remarkable physiological trait for these tree roots is the capacity to diminish the availability of trace elements into the soil, in special of those potentially toxic (Cd, Pb, As). We recommend planting trees with high “phytostabilisation” potential to remediate metal-contaminated soils.

This study has been published in the April issue of the journal Plant and Soil:

Marañón, T., Navarro-Fernández, C. M., Gil-Martínez, M., Domínguez, M. T., Madejón, P., Villar, R. (2020). Variation in morphological and chemical traits of Mediterranean tree roots: linkage with leaf traits and soil conditions. Plant and Soil, 449: 389-403.

The assessment and evaluation of ecosystem services is a valuable tool to support and justify sustainble soil management.

Researchers of IRNAS, CSIC have contributed to the development of a methodology to quantify changes in ecosystem services induced by soil management measures, as part of the European RECARE consortium.

A comparative analysis of the results for 26 measures applied to remediate degraded soils, in 16 case studies across Europe, has been carried out. In particular, IRNAS´s researchers have evaluated the results of amendments (biosolid compost) and tree planting (wild olive) in contaminated and remediated soils of the Guadiamar Green Corridor.

The new methodology was applied to evaluate the impacts of each 26 measures on different ecosystem services. The most relevant 15 ecosystem services were selected, grouped in provisioning, regulation and cultural services. In general, the applied soil remediation measures produced positive changes in ecosystem services. Within the regulation services, “mediation of flows” (protection from erosion) and “mediation of waste, toxics and other nuisances” (stabilization of contaminants) showed the most important positive impacts.

The methodology also detected synergies and trade-offs among ecosystem services. This holistic approach may be the base for a valuation of the benefits from each ecosystem service and the integrated management of the evaluated land.

The results have been published in the December issue of the open access journal Sustainability:

Gudrun Schwilch, Tatenda Lemann, Örjan Berglund, Carlo Camarotto, Artemi Cerdà, Ioannis N. Daliakopoulos, Silvia Kohnová, Dominika Krzeminska, Teodoro Marañón, René Rietra, Grzegorz Siebielec, Johann Thorsson, Mark Tibbett, Sandra Valente, Hedwig van Delden, Jan van den Akker, Simone Verzandvoort, Nicoleta Olimpia Vrînceanu, Christos Zoumides, Rudi Hessel (2018), Assessing impacts of soil management measures on Ecosystem Services. Sustainability, 10 (12), 4416, doi:10.3390/su10124416.

Soil abiotic properties, such as texture, nutrient availability and water, are essential in the development of terrestrial plants. Mycorrhizal fungi, which are fungi living in symbiosis with plants roots, are also key for plant growing. This symbiosis enhances a trade-off of carbohydrates and nutrients beneficial for both plant and fungi. Therefore, it is expected that different mycorrhizal fungal communities (in terms of species and their morphological traits) would affect plant development (in terms of plant chemical and morphological traits) in different ways.

In order to understand this mycorrhizal fungi-plant relationship, researchers from IRNAS-CSIC and Universidad de Sevilla (Spain), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and the University of Reading (United Kingdom), developed a study on holm oak trees and their symbiotic ectomycorrhizal fungi. The area selected for this study, known as the Guadiamar Green Corridor (Seville), suffered a mine spill leaving behind hectares of land contaminated by trace elements. Twenty years after the accident and the phytoremediation of the affected area, trace elements are still present and the role of ectomycorrhizal fungi might be especially important in this stressful environment.

In this study, we found that ectomycorrhizal fungi explained more than soil abiotic properties for most of the measured plant traits, especially root functional traits. The symbiosis with abundant species of ectomycorrhizal fungi (Hebeloma cavipes and Thelephora terrestris) was related to conservative positions into the root economics spectrum. Conservative traits, like denser roots and higher dry matter content, allow tree survival under adverse conditions. Hebeloma cavipes and Thelephora terrestris were characterised with a high rhizomorph formation, a fungal trait that enhances water and phosphate uptake through a long-distance exploration mechanism. It may be possible that this specific tree-fungi symbiosis was established as a consequence of resource limitations.

Trace element mobility through the soil-root-leaf continuum was analysed and despite soil trace elements concentrations in our environmental gradient was relatively large, accumulation of trace elements in oak leaves was relatively low. This confirms that holm oak is a suitable species for the phytostabilisation of contaminated soils, given its ability to prevent trace element accumulation into aboveground biomass. However, it is not the role of the tree alone, as trace element transfer was highly explained by its associated ectomycorrhizal fungal communities, which suggests that interactions with fungi play an important role at determining the capacity of this tree species to retain trace elements into its roots.

These findings support that ectomycorrhizal fungal community composition and their functional traits mediate plant performance in trace element contaminated soils, and have a high influence on plant capacity for phytoremediation of contaminants.

The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science:

Gil-Martínez, M., López-García, Á., Domínguez, M. T., Navarro-Fernández, C. M., Kjøller, R., Tibbett, M., & Marañón, T. (2018). Ectomycorrhizal Fungal Communities and Their Functional Traits Mediate Plant–Soil Interactions in Trace Element Contaminated Soils. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9, 1682.