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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

46 - Fine root mass and fine root production in tropical moist forests as dependent on soil, climate, and elevation

from Part IV - Nutrient dynamics in tropical montane cloud forests



This chapter presents a meta-analysis of fine root mass and productivity in tropical moist forests in terms of the dependence on various environmental factors, using 87 data-sets from both Paleo- and Neotropical forests. The present review differs from earlier analyses in that it focuses strictly on the fine root fraction (<2 mm in diameter) and applies relatively rigid criteria with respect to the selection of data (a.o. to prevent the merging of data on live and dead root mass). Forests in the upper montane belt (>2000 m.a.s.l.) have markedly higher live fine root biomass compared to mid-elevation and lowland forests, both in the Paleotropics/Australia and the Neotropics. Hence, the ratio of shoot to fine root biomass decreases significantly with elevation. Fine root production is negatively related to above-ground biomass. These findings highlight the increasing ecological importance of the fine root system of tropical moist forests with increasing elevation.


Fine roots play an important role in the functioning of trees because they are the organs of water and nutrient acquisition. Although representing a relatively small part of total tree biomass, fine roots often consume a large portion of the annual carbon gain (Grier et al., 1981; Vogt et al., 1996). Decaying fine roots are a major source of carbon addition to the soil organic matter pool. The rising interest in the below-ground compartment of forests in the last decades has led to an increasing number of studies on fine root biomass and turnover, mainly in temperate and boreal forests (see global reviews by Vogt et al., 1996; Cairns et al., 1997; Gill and Jackson, 2000).

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