Root traits are related with plant water-use


Root traits are related to plant water-use among rangeland Mediterranean species

F. Fort ab, F. Volaire c, L. Guilioni d, K. Barkaoui e, M-L. Navas a, C. Roumet b

a Montpellier SupAgro, CEFE UMR 5175, Université de Montpellier – Université Paul Valéry – EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France; b CNRS, CEFE UMR 5175, Université de Montpellier – Université Paul Valéry – EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France; c INRA, CEFE UMR 5175, Université de Montpellier – Université Paul Valéry – EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France; d Montpellier SupAgro, Département biologie et écologie, 2 place Pierre Viala, 34060 Montpellier Cedex 2, France

In the context of a global increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts under climate change, root traits need to be explored to better understand their influence on water-use strategies of plants and communities. Perennial Mediterranean herbaceous species are an interesting model since they exhibit various spatial and temporal water-use strategies with contrasting adaptive responses to drought.

Combining a functional trait-based approach with a water balance model, we tested whether root functional traits are related to spatial and temporal water-use among 12 Mediterranean rangeland species. Each species was grown in monoculture in a common garden. Soil water content was monitored for ten months along the entire soil profile in each monoculture. These measurements were combined with climatic variables in a water balance model that assessed the amount and dynamics of water uptake of each species on a daily basis. Root morphological traits were measured at two soil depths (shallow and deep soil) and root biomass was measured along the soil profile to estimate species rooting depth.

We found that species with thin roots in shallow soil layers maximised water uptake in a short period following the peak of spring biomass production, while they used large amounts of water during periods of low water availability in summer. Conversely, species with coarse roots took up less water during the peak-growing season but maintained water uptake over a longer period of time and consumed less water during periods of low water availability. Deep roots with large diameters improved species’ ability to reach water from deep soil. Root biomass allocation in the deep soil layer was positively correlated to the amount of water consumed during periods of low water availability. Our results highlight that root traits influence spatial and temporal water-use among Mediterranean rangeland species. However, root traits account for the amount of water consumption during dry periods but not during the entire growing season.

In press, Functional Ecology

EcoSummit is coming!


A poster accepted : Grassland root functional parameters vary according to a community-level resource acquisition-conservation trade-off

Florian Fort1, Pablo Cruz2, Eric Lecloux2, Claire Jouany2

1 Montpellier SupAgro, UMR 5175 CEFE, Université de Montpellier – Université Paul Valéry – EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, F-34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France; 2 INRA, UMR1248 AGIR, INRA – Université de Toulouse – INPT, F-31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France

The fundamental trade-off between fine root trait attributes related to resource acquisition and conservation is well documented at species and community levels. However, relations remain unclear between this trade-off and communities’ adaptation to environmental factors. As a result we ask: i) How do fertility and soil depth influence the communities’ position along the root acquisition-conservation trade-off? ii) How does root position along the soil profile influence its functional parameter?

We have assessed grassland botanical composition and measured communities’ root functional parameters (at plot and soil-layer levels) in 16 plots differentiated by the amounts of N and P fertilisers applied over 16 years and a soil depth gradient. Structural equation models were used to analyse relations among environmental factors, botanical composition and root functional parameters.

Botanical composition and plot-level root functional parameters vary according to fertility and soil depth. Communities from low fertility plots display high root tissue density, low specific root length (SRL) and low root length density (RLD), while communities from high fertility plots display opposite parameter values. Roots display different parameter values with soil depth. Roots in the surface horizon have small diameters and high SRL and RLD, while roots in deep horizons have large diameters and low SRL.

Our results demonstrate that the root resource management strategy varies according to fertility, communities from fertile plots are displaying more acquisitive strategies than the others. Root parameters variation with soil depth suggests intensive soil exploration, a high nutrient acquisition capacity in the surface horizon and a high water transport capacity per root length unit in deep horizon. We hypothesise that root specialisation enables species to be competitive for both nutrient and water uptakes. Our study provides evidence that fertility and soil depth modified root functional parameters in agreement with predictions from the economics spectrum theory.



Evidence of a community-level root acquisition-conservation trade-off


Photography H. Bessière

Grassland root functional parameters vary according to a community-level resource acquisition-conservation trade-off

Florian Fort, Pablo Cruz, Eric Lecloux, Leandro Bittencourt de Oliveira, Ciprian Stroia, Jean-Pierre Theau, Claire Jouany


This study has for objective to test how do soil depth gradient and fertility changes influence communities’ below-ground parameters on a long-term experiment set on a French temperate grassland.

Our results support the hypothesis that fertile communities are dominated by acquisitive species and highlight the fact that soil depth has a strong effect on functional parameters.

Accepted for publication in Journal of Vegetation Science



A tool to quantify review activity!



Un peu d’enseignement!

Un peu d’enseignement!

Voici la présentation d’un nouveau module d’enseignement mêlant, écologie, sociologie et génétique pour la conception de nouveaux types de variétés : « Designing new crops for the future » proposé par Dominique This, Isabel Martin-Grande et moi même à Montpellier SupAgro.



New paper write in collaboration with an excellent young agronomist, Miss Tribouillois, accepted by PlosOne

A functional characterisation of a wide range of cover crop species: growth and nitrogen acquisition rates, leaf traits and ecological strategies.

Hélène Tribouillois1, Florian Fort1, Pablo Cruz1, Raphaël Charles2, Olivier Flores3, Eric Garnier4 and Eric Justes*1

1 INRA, UMR AGIR, 24 Chemin de Borde Rouge – Auzeville, CS 52627, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan Cedex, France; 2 Agroscope, Institute of Plant Production Sciences, 50 Route de Duillier, CP 1012, CH-1260 Nyon 1, Suisse; 3 Université de la Réunion/CIRAD, UMR—Peuplements Végétaux et Bioagresseurs en Milieu Tropical, 97410 Saint Pierre, France; 4Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (UMR 5175), CNRS – Université de Montpellier – Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier – EPHE, 1919, route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France


Cover crops can produce ecosystem services during the fallow period, as reducing nitrate leaching and producing green manure. Crop growth rate (CGR) and crop nitrogen acquisition rate (CNR) can be used as two indicators of the ability of cover crops to produce these services in agrosystems.

We used leaf functional traits to characterise the growth strategies of 36 cover crops as an approach to assess their ability to grow and acquire N rapidly. We measured specific leaf area (SLA), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), leaf nitrogen content (LNC) and leaf area (LA) and we evaluated their relevance to characterise CGR and CNR. Cover crop species were positioned along the Leaf Economics Spectrum (LES), the SLA-LDMC plane, and the CSR triangle of plant strategies.

LA was positively correlated with CGR and CNR, while LDMC was negatively correlated with CNR. All cover crops could be classified as resource-acquisitive species from their relative position on the LES and the SLA-LDMC plane. Most cover crops were located along the Competition/Ruderality axis in the CSR triangle. In particular, Brassicaceae species were classified as very competitive, which was consistent with their high CGR and CNR. Leaf functional traits, especially LA and LDMC, allowed to differentiate some cover crops strategies related to their ability to grow and acquire N. LDMC was lower and LNC was higher in cover crop than in wild species, pointing to an efficient acquisitive syndrome in the former, corresponding to the high resource availability found in agrosystems. Combining several leaf traits explained approximately half of the CGR and CNR variances, which might be considered insufficient to precisely characterise and rank cover crop species for agronomic purposes. We hypothesised that may be the consequence of domestication process, which has reduced the range of plant strategies and modified the leaf trait syndrome in cultivated species.

Keywords: catch crop; domesticated species; green manure; functional traits; nitrogen; resource-use strategy

A new article investigating the relations between Ellenberg indicators and functional traits values

Hierarchical traits distances explain grassland Fabaceae species’ ecological niches distances

Florian Fort1, 3*, Claire Jouany2, 3 and Pablo Cruz2, 3
1 Montpellier SupAgro, France
2 INRA, France
3 Université de Toulouse, France


Fabaceae species play a key role in ecosystem functioning through their capacity to fix atmospheric nitrogen via their symbiosis with Rhizobium bacteria. To increase benefits of using Fabaceae in agricultural systems, it is necessary to find ways to evaluate species or genotypes having potential adaptations to sub-optimal growth conditions.
We evaluated the relevance of phylogenetic distance, absolute trait distance and hierarchical trait distance for comparing the adaptation of 13 grassland Fabaceae species to different habitats, i.e. ecological niches. We measured a wide range of functional traits (root traits, leaf traits and whole plant traits) in these species. Species phylogenetic and ecological distances were assessed from a species-level phylogenetic tree and species’ ecological indicator values, respectively.
We demonstrated that differences in ecological niches between grassland Fabaceae species were related more to their hierarchical trait distances than to their phylogenetic distances. We showed that grassland Fabaceae functional traits tend to converge among species with the same ecological requirements. Species with acquisitive root strategies (thin roots, shallow root systems) are competitive species adapted to non-stressful meadows, while conservative ones (coarse roots, deep root systems) are able to tolerate stressful continental climates. In contrast, acquisitive species appeared to be able to tolerate low soil-P availability, while conservative ones need high P availability.
Finally we highlight that traits converge along the ecological gradient, providing the assumption that species with similar root-trait values are better able to coexist, regardless of their phylogenetic distance.