DataSheet_1_Physical and Functional Constraints on Viable Belowground Acquisition Strategies.docx
Since their emergence onto land, terrestrial plants have developed diverse strategies to acquire soil resources. However, we lack a framework that adequately captures how these strategies vary among species. Observations from around the world now allow us to quantify the variation observed in commonly-measured fine-root traits but it is unclear how root traits are interrelated and whether they fall along an “economic” spectrum of acquisitive to conservative strategies. We assessed root trait variation and mycorrhizal colonization rates by leveraging the largest global database of fine-root traits (the Fine-Root Ecology Database; FRED). We also developed a heuristic model to explore the role of mycorrhizal fungi in defining belowground exploration efficiency across a gradient of thin- to thick-diameter roots. In support of the expectations of the “root economic spectrum,” we found that root diameter was negatively related to specific root length (Pearson’s r=-0.76). However, we found an unexpected negative relationship between root diameter and root tissue density (Pearson’s r = -0.40), and we further observed that root nitrogen content was largely unrelated to other economic traits. Mycorrhizal colonization was most closely associated with root diameter (Pearson’s r = 0.62) and was unrelated to root tissue density and root nitrogen. The heuristic model demonstrated that while thinner roots have inherently greater capacity to encounter soil resources based on higher surface area per unit mass, the potential for increased associations with mycorrhizal fungi in thicker roots, combined with greater hyphal growth, can result in equally acquisitive strategies for both thin- and thick roots. Taken together, our assessments of root trait variation, trade-offs with mycorrhizal fungi, and broader connections to root longevity allowed us to propose a series of fundamental constraints on belowground resource acquisition strategies. Physical tradeoffs based on root construction (i.e., economic traits) and functional limitations related to the capacity of a root to encounter and acquire soil resources combine to limit the two-dimensional belowground trait space. Within this trait space there remains a diversity of additional variation in root traits that facilitates a wide range of belowground resource acquisition strategies.