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Early root growth and architecture of fast- and slow-growing Norway spruce (Picea abies) families differ—potential for functional adaptation

Hamberg, Leena, Velmala, Sannakajsa M, Sievänen, Risto, Kalliokoski, Tuomo, Pennanen, Taina
Tree physiology 2017 v.38 no.6 pp. 853-864
Picea abies, aerial parts, biomass, boreal forests, branches, fine roots, forest soils, image analysis, nutrients, phenotype, root growth, root tips, seedlings, tree physiology, trees
The relationship between the growth rate of aboveground parts of trees and fine root development is largely unknown. We investigated the early root development of fast- and slow-growing Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) H. Karst.) families at a developmental stage when the difference in size is not yet observed. Seedling root architecture data, describing root branching, were collected with the WinRHIZO™ image analysis system, and mixed models were used to determine possible differences between the two growth phenotypes. A new approach was used to investigate the spatial extent of root properties along the whole sample root from the base of 1-year-old seedlings to the most distal part of a root. The root architecture of seedlings representing fast-growing phenotypes showed ~30% higher numbers of root branches and tips, which resulted in larger root extensions and potentially a better ability to acquire nutrients. Seedlings of fast-growing phenotypes oriented and allocated root tips and biomass further away from the base of the seedling than those growing slowly, a possible advantage in nutrient-limited and heterogeneous boreal forest soils. We conclude that a higher long-term growth rate of the aboveground parts in Norway spruce may relate to greater allocation of resources to explorative roots that confers a competitive edge during early growth phases in forest ecosystems.