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Dwelling in the deep - strongly increased root growth and rooting depth enhance plant interactions with thawing permafrost soil

  • Gesche Blume-Werry
  • Ann Milbau
  • Laurenz M. Teuber
  • Margareta Johansson
  • Ellen Dorrepaal
Publishing year: 2019-08
Language: English
Pages: 1328-1339
Publication/Series: New Phytologist
Volume: 223
Issue: 3
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Abstract english

Climate‐warming induced permafrost thaw exposes large amounts of carbon and nitrogen in soil at greater depths below the seasonally‐thawing active layer. The extent to which plant roots can reach and interact with these hitherto detached, deep carbon and nitrogen stores remains unknown. We aimed to quantify how permafrost thaw affects root dynamics across soil depths and plant functional types compared with aboveground abundance, and potential consequences for plant‐soil interactions. A decade of experimental permafrost thaw strongly increased total root length and growth in the active layer, and deep roots invaded the newly thawed permafrost underneath. Root litter input to soil across all depths was 10 times greater with permafrost thaw. Root growth timing was unaffected by experimental permafrost thaw but peaked later in deeper soil, reflecting the seasonally receding thaw front. Deep‐rooting species could sequester 15N added at the base of the ambient active layer in October, which was after root growth had ceased. Deep soil organic matter that has long been locked‐up in permafrost is thus no longer detached from plant processes upon thaw. Whether via nutrient uptake, carbon storage, or rhizosphere priming, plant root interactions with thawing permafrost soils may feedback both positively and negatively onto our climate.


  • Soil Science
  • Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use


  • ISSN: 1469-8137
E-mail: margareta [dot] johansson [at] nateko [dot] lu [dot] se


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