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Research article2024Peer reviewed

Molecular-level carbon traits underlie the multidimensional fine root economics space

Wang, Mengke; Kong, Deliang; Mo, Xiaohan; Wang, Yinghui; Yang, Qingpei; Kardol, Paul; Valverde-Barrantes, Oscar J.; Simpson, Myrna J.; Zeng, Hui; Reich, Peter B.; Bergmann, Joana; Tharayil, Nishanth; Wang, Junjian


Carbon influences the evolution and functioning of plants and their roots. Previous work examining a small number of commonly measured root traits has revealed a global multidimensionality of the resource economics traits in fine roots considering carbon as primary currency but without considering the diversity of carbon-related traits. To address this knowledge gap, we use data from 66 tree species from a tropical forest to illustrate that root economics space co-varies with a novel molecular-level traits space based on nuclear magnetic resonance. Thinner fine roots exhibit higher proportions of carbohydrates and lower diversity of molecular carbon than thicker roots. Mass-denser fine roots have more lignin and aromatic carbon compounds but less bioactive carbon compounds than lighter roots. Thus, the transition from thin to thick fine roots implies a shift in the root carbon economy from 'do-it-yourself' soil exploration to collaboration with mycorrhizal fungi, while the shift from light to dense fine roots emphasizes a shift from acquisitive to conservative root strategy. We reveal a previously undocumented role of molecular-level carbon traits that potentially undergird the multidimensional root economics space. This finding offers new molecular insight into the diversity of root form and function, which is fundamental to our understanding of plant evolution, species coexistence and adaptations to heterogeneous environments.Wang and colleagues report a two-dimensional root carbon trait space coupled with the root economics space, offering molecular insights into the great diversity of root form and function.

Published in

Nature Plants