Root Biology and Ecology

Plants vary enormously in the morphology and physiology of their roots. We have only begun to understand the diversity in root form and function and the major role they play in ecosystem processes. Studies are conducted under controlled greenhouse and growth chamber conditions as well as common garden plantings in the field and natural patterns in the plant communities.
Grape root with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Grape root with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

At the physiological level, the primary function of mycorrhizal fine roots is water and nutrient absorption. Ecologically, roots have a major influence on plant competition, nutrient cycling, soil development and the complex web of soil microorganism. Lifespans of the finest roots of a plant may range from no more than a week to more that three years. Root diameters of the finest roots of a plant species can range from only 40 microns to nearly 1000 microns. Some species construct roots that are unresponsive to changes in soil water or nutrient status; others build roots that grow rapidly when soil is favorable and shed quickly when soil conditions become unfavorable. We are interested in linking a better understanding of root biology and ecology to improved predictions on factors influencing species distribution and abundance. Field sites include common garden plantings, forests across the northeastern U.S., tundra in Greenland, and forest communities in China and Poland.  We also study fruit crop systems including grapes, peaches and apples.

Nutrient Foraging by Mycorrhizal Roots