The root to stability – the role of plant roots in ecosystem response to climate change

The root to stability – the role of plant roots in ecosystem response to climate change


Agriculture is facing the challenge of producing food for a burgeoning world population in a sustainable way, under current and future threats of a changing climate. Grasslands cover a large part of the UK and provide many functions, including plant production for grazing, hay, and silage, carbon (C) storage, nitrogen (N) retention, greenhouse gas mitigation, and biodiversity, which underpin the ecosystem services of sustainable food production and climate mitigation. Increased temperatures and extreme events, such as drought, can severely affect ecosystems and their functioning, and we need to understand the factors that determine the stability of communities and ecosystems under climate change to secure the delivery of these ecosystem services.

Most of the research in this area has focussed on aboveground responses of plant communities, but evidence is emerging that belowground components of ecosystems, such as plant roots and soil organisms, are as strongly affected by climate extremes as aboveground components. It is widely proposed that root exudates are major drivers of the response of ecosystems to climate change, and it has been suggested that they are the key to increased soil C sequestration, but experimental evidence for this is remarkably rare.

This BBSRC funded project aims to elucidate how plant roots, via their root traits and root exudates, modify short-term and long-term ecosystem response – plant and microbial community composition and C and N cycling – to drought and warming. We will focus on the response of plant roots and their exudates to drought and warming, and the consequences for microbial community composition and activity, with knock-on effects for C and N cycling and plant community composition.

The root to stability – right hand column