U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Document Type


Date of this Version



Global Change Biology (2013) 19, 1697–1708; doi: 10.1111/gcb.12163


Fine root dynamics control a dominant flux of carbon from plants and into soils and mediate potential uptake and cycling of nutrients and water in terrestrial ecosystems. Understanding of these patterns is needed to accurately describe critical processes like productivity and carbon storage from ecosystem to global scales. However, limited observations of root dynamics make it difficult to define and predict patterns of root dynamics across broad spatial scales. Here, we combine species-specific estimates of fine root dynamics with a model that predicts current distribution and future suitable habitat of temperate tree species across the eastern United States (US). Estimates of fine root lifespan and turnover are based on empirical observations and relationships with fine root and whole-plant traits and apply explicitly to the fine root pool that is relatively short-lived and most active in nutrient and water uptake. Results from the combined model identified patterns of faster root turnover rates in the North Central US and slower turnover rates in the Southeastern US. Portions of Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania were also predicted to experience >10% increases in root turnover rates given potential shifts in tree species composition under future climate scenarios while root turnover rates in other portions of the eastern US were predicted to decrease. Despite potential regional changes, the average estimates of root lifespan and turnover for the entire study area remained relatively stable between the current and future climate scenarios. Our combined model provides the first empirically based, spatially explicit, and spatially extensive estimates of fine root lifespan and turnover and is a potentially powerful tool allowing researchers to identify reasonable approximations of forest fine root turnover in areas where no direct observations are available. Future efforts should focus on reducing uncertainty in estimates of root dynamics by better understanding how climate and soil factors drive variability in root dynamics of different species.