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Maeght J.-L.,Joint Research Unit Biogeochimie et Ecologie des Milieux Continentaux | Rewald B.,University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna | Pierret A.,Joint Research Unit Biogeochimie et Ecologie des Milieux Continentaux
Frontiers in Plant Science | Year: 2013

The drivers underlying the development of deep root systems, whether genetic or environmental, are poorly understood but evidence has accumulated that deep rooting could be a more widespread and important trait among plants than commonly anticipated from their share of root biomass. Even though a distinct classification of "deep roots" is missing to date, deep roots provide important functions for individual plants such as nutrient and water uptake but can also shape plant communities by hydraulic lift (HL). Subterranean fauna and microbial communities are highly influenced by resources provided in the deep rhizosphere and deep roots can influence soil pedogenesis and carbon storage.Despite recent technological advances, the study of deep roots and their rhizosphere remains inherently time-consuming, technically demanding and costly, which explains why deep roots have yet to be given the attention they deserve. While state-of-the-art technologies are promising for laboratory studies involving relatively small soil volumes, they remain of limited use for the in situ observation of deep roots. Thus, basic techniques such as destructive sampling or observations at transparent interfaces with the soil (e.g., root windows) which have been known and used for decades to observe roots near the soil surface, must be adapted to the specific requirements of deep root observation. In this review, we successively address major physical, biogeochemical and ecological functions of deep roots to emphasize the significance of deep roots and to illustrate the yet limited knowledge. In the second part we describe the main methodological options to observe and measure deep roots, providing researchers interested in the field of deep root/rhizosphere studies with a comprehensive overview. Addressed methodologies are: excavations, trenches and soil coring approaches, minirhizotrons (MR), access shafts, caves and mines, and indirect approaches such as tracer-based techniques. © 2013 Maeght, Rewald and Pierret. Source

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