Repetitive seasonal drought causes substantial species-specific shifts in fine-root longevity and spatio-temporal production patterns in mature temperate forest trees

Zwetsloot, Marie J.; Bauerle, Taryn L.


Temperate forest ecosystems are exposed to a higher frequency, duration and severity of drought. To promote forest longevity in a changing climate, we require a better understanding of the long-term impacts of repetitive drought events on fine-root dynamics in mature forests. Using minirhizotron methods, we investigated the effect of seasonal drought on fine-root dynamics in single-species and mixed-species arrangements of Fagus sylvatica (European beech) and Picea abies (Norway spruce) by means of a 4-yr-long throughfall-exclusion experiment. Fine-root production of both species decreased under drought. However, this reduction was not evident for P. abies when grown intermixed with F. sylvatica. Throughfall-exclusion prolonged the lifespan of P. abies roots but did not change the lifespan of F. sylvatica roots, except in 2016. Fagus sylvatica responded to drought by reducing fine-root production at specific depths and during roof closure. This is the first study to examine long-term trends in mature forest fine-root dynamics under repetitive drought events. Species-specific fine-root responses to drought have implications for the rate and depth of root-derived organic matter supply to soil. From a root dynamics perspective, intermixing tree species is not beneficial to all species but dampens drought impacts on the belowground productivity of P. abies.