Roots as a driving force for South African landscape patterns

The endemic Cyrtanthus ventricosus appears in the undernourished soil of the Finbos Biome (Jonkershoek Nature Reserve) after a fire. Credit: Mingzhen Lu

We usually think that plants support the best on earth. There are lots of flashy flowers, fragrant flowers, and unique shapes. But underground development is magical as well.

“For the past 400 million years, plant Colonized lands, roots were the true driving force of the terrestrial nutrient cycle, “said SFI Omidia Fellow Mingzhen Lu. Minutes of the National Academy of Sciences.. “Roots are the foundation of biodiversity.”

In this study, Lou and his team of international collaborators, including the revered scientists William Bond (University of Cape Town) and Lars Hedin (Princeton University), delved deeper to better understand one of the finest. rice field root World system.

Researchers conducted a four-year operational experiment to investigate the complete gap between the biome of Fynbos and the Afrotemperate Forest in the Western Cape, South Africa.Fynbos, chunky Biome It is adjacent to the Aphrotemperate Forest, a forest with a high degree of plant diversity and a predominant number of tree species.The unusual biome boundaries are so narrow that within a few steps, from hot, open shrublands to cool, mossy shades. forest..

The two biomes share the underlying geology and are affected by the same climatic patterns, making sharp depictions even clearer. These exist as alternative stable states. In the face of extreme turmoil, biomes can shift to reflect potentially adjacent plant communities.

“Some systems can exist in a variety of conditions, such as water and ice,” Hedin explains. “This makes it especially interesting as a model. Dramatic change You can switch from one state to another. This is especially urgent in a world stressed by climate change. “

Against this background, this study reveals two important findings.First, the forests of Fynbos and Afrotemperate showed a striking difference between them. Root traits..Second, due to these root differences, the Fynbos plant community can block trees by limiting the underground. Nutrient availability.. Specifically, the Fynbos plant rejects invasion with the finest roots ever identified.

“We have found that these roots are the thinnest of all in all ecosystems around the world,” says Lu. “For every gram of carbon (the weight of a paper clip), these plants produce 15 soccer field length roots.”

Filamentous roots allow Fynbos species to defeat thick-rooted plants in nutrient-poor soils.

“The fine roots of Fynbos are underground weapons that create a dire situation for nutrient-hungry forest plants,” says Bond. “We now find that it is not the inherent soil characteristics, but the feedback of the plants to the soil, which brings misery to the forest saplings.”

As the author explains, exacerbating the “nutrition misery”, finbos biomes tend to be frequent hot fires that burn nutrients stored in the soil. Combining a nutrient-storing underground strategy with collective fire adaptation, Fynbos plant communities can support their sustainability by altering their environment. On the other side of the biome division, the forest is doing the same.

The findings suggest that alternative stable states can be maintained through biological mechanisms such as root traits, as well as commonly understood abiotic factors such as climate. This insight is important to protect endangered ecosystems around the world.

“It’s profound to see microscale plant characteristics, such as root thickness, associated with macroscale emerging ecosystem patterns,” says Lu.

“Who thought it was the roots that helped explain this bistability?” Asks Hedin. “It blows my heart away.”

Exploring the genetic basis of the root economic spectrum

For more information:
Biome boundaries maintained by fierce competition for underground resources in the world’s thinnest plant communities, Minutes of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2117514119..

Provided by
Santa Fe Institute

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Roots as a driving force for South African landscape patterns

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