Ecological roots of pine species distribution in Southern Europe (scientific article)

Key message

The rapid production of a large, deep root system during seedling establishment is critical for pines to colonize dry Mediterranean locations.

Root properties can influence plant drought resistance, and consequently plant species distribution. Root structure strongly varies across biomes partly as a result of phylogeny. However, whether the spatial distribution of phylogenetically close plant species is linked to differences in root properties remains unclear. We examined whether root properties mediate the strong correlation between summer drought intensity and the spatial segregation of pine species native to southern Europe. For this, we compared the seedling root growth and structure of five ecologically distinct pine species grown in 360 L rhizotrons for 19 months under typical hot and dry Mediterranean conditions. We studied the mountain and boreo-alpine pines Pinus sylvestris and Pinus nigra, and the Mediterranean pines Pinus pinaster, Pinus pinea, and Pinus halepensis. Mediterranean pines formed deep roots faster than mountain pines, their shoots and roots grew faster and had higher root growth, especially P. halepensis, at low air temperature. By the end of the study, Mediterranean pines had larger root systems than mountain pines. Neither distribution of root mass with depth nor root-to-shoot mass ratio varied significantly among species. Across species, minimal annual rainfall to which species are exposed in their range related negatively to root growth but positively to specific root length and the time needed for roots to reach a depth of 40 cm. This study highlights the importance of root growth as a driver of pine distribution in southern Europe and suggests that rapidly producing a large, deep root system may be a key attribute for pines to colonize dry Mediterranean locations.

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Andivia E, Zuccarini P, Grau B, de Herralde F, Villar-Salvador P, Savé R (2018) Rooting big and deep rapidly: the ecological roots of pine species distribution in southern Europe. Trees.

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