Chin J Plan Ecolo ›› 2015, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (6): 577-585.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2015.0055

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Trade-off between root forks and link length of Melica przewalskyi on different aspects of slopes

SONG Qing-Hua, ZHAO Cheng-Zhang*(), SHI Yuan-Chun, DU Jing, WANG Ji-Wei, CHEN Jing   

  1. Research Center of Wetland Resources Protection and Industrial Development Engineering of Gansu Province, College of Geography and Environmental Science, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
  • Received:2014-12-05 Accepted:2015-05-20 Online:2015-07-02 Published:2015-06-01
  • Contact: Cheng-Zhang ZHAO
  • About author:

    # Co-first authors

Abstract: <i>Aims</i>

The number of root forks and link length influence distribution patterns of plant roots. The trade-off between root forks and link length has an important meaning for comprehending ecological adaptation strategy of root architecture. Our objective was to study the relationship between root forks and link length of Melica przewalskyi population in response to slope aspects in the northwest of China.


The study site was located in a degraded alpine grassland on the northern slope of Qilian Mountains, Gansu Province, China. Survey and sampling were carried out in 80 plots that were set up along four aspect transects of a hill with 20 m distance between adjacent plots. A handheld GPS was used to record latitude, longitude and altitude of each plot. ArcGIS was used to set up digital elevation model (DEM) to extract the information of elevation, aspect, and slope for each plot. The traits of plant communities were investigated and three individual samplings of M. przewalskyi were collected randomly in each plot. The samples were cleaned and divided into different organs. The roots were scanned with the Win-RHIZO for measurements of root forks and link length in laboratory, and biomass of different organs was measured after being dried at 80 °C in an oven. The 240 plots were categorized into groups of north, east, west and south aspects of slopes, and the linear regression analysis was then used to examine the trade-off relationship between root forks and link length in different groups.

<i>Important findings</i>

With a change of the aspect from north to east, west and south, the density, aboveground biomass, height and soil moisture content of the plant community displayed a pattern of steadily declining, while the density, height, root link length of M. przewalskyi increased, and the root forks decreased. The number of root forks was negatively correlated with the link length in all aspects, but the relationship varied along the aspect gradient (p < 0.05). There was a highly significant negative correlation (p < 0.01) between the root forks and link length on north slope and south slope, whereas less significant (p < 0.05) on the east slope and west slope, all indicating a trade-off relationship between the root forks and link length. Consequently, the patterns of resource allocation between root forks and link length in different slope habitats reflected the response and adaption of plant root functional traits to their biotic and abiotic environments and the investment balance mechanism for root architecture construction.

Key words: aspect, Melica przewalskyi, root architecture, root forks, root link length, trade-off

Fig. 1

Changes in root forks and link length of Melica przewalskyi along an aspect gradient (mean ± SE). Different lowercase letters indicate significant differences among slope aspects (p < 0.05)."

Fig. 2

The relationship between root forks and link length of Melica przewalskyi in different aspects of slopes. A, North slope. B, East slope. C, West slope. D, South slope."

Table 1

Biological characteristics of Melica przewalskyi along an aspect gradient (mean ± SE)"

坡向 Aspect 甘肃臭草密度
Density of M. przewalskyi (株·m-2)
Height of M. przewalskyi (cm)
Root-shoot ratio
北 North 55.83 ± 4.31c 15.61 ± 0.14c 2.09 ± 0.22b
东 East 94.00 ± 3.91b 18.30 ± 0.26b 2.58 ± 0.16a
西 West 98.17 ± 3.26b 18.63 ± 0.32b 2.63 ± 0.31a
南 South 14.50 ± 12.27a 21.80 ± 0.87a 2.14 ± 0.24ab

Table 2

The major characteristics in different aspects of slopes (mean ± SE)"

群落特征 Community properties 土壤水分含量
Soil moisture content (%)
Community density (株·m-2)
Community height (cm)
Aboveground biomass (g·m-2)
北 North 260.67 ± 18.54a 34.50 ± 1.74a 100.18 ± 2.13a 12.30 ± 0.56a
东 East 214.17 ± 17.42b 27.80 ± 1.32b 97.66 ± 2.28b 8.90 ± 0.38b
西 West 191.67 ± 16.17c 25.80 ± 1.16b 94.78 ± 1.49c 8.50 ± 0.37b
南 South 147.33 ± 12.46d 21.80 ± 0.87c 92.23 ± 1.74d 6.70 ± 0.24c

Table 3

Correlation analysis between root characteristics of Melica przewalskyi and community characteristics"

Community density (株·m-2)
Community heigh (cm)
Aboveground biomass (g·m-2)
Soil moisture content (%)
分叉数 Root forks 0.999** 0.977* 0.967* 0.974*
连接长度 Link length -0.997** -0.957* -0.933 -0.956*
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