Root biomass and root traits of Alnus glutinosa show size-dependent and opposite patterns in a drained and a rewetted forest peatland

Ann Bot. 2021 Feb 9;127(3):337-346. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcaa195.


Background and aims: Forest peatlands represent 25 % of global peatlands and store large amounts of carbon (C) as peat. Traditionally they have been drained in order to increase forestry yield, which may cause large losses of C from the peat. Rewetting aims to stop these losses and to restore the initial storage function of the peatlands. As roots represent major peat-forming elements in these systems, we sampled roots with diameter <5 mm in a drained and a rewetted forest peatland in north-east Germany to evaluate differences in tree biomass investments below ground, root functional characteristics and root age.

Methods: We cored soil next to Alnus glutinosa stems and sorted root biomass into <1, 1-2 and 2-5 mm diameter classes. We measured biomass distribution and specific root area (SRA) in 10-cm depth increments down to 50 cm, and estimated root age from annual growth rings.

Key results: Root biomass in the rewetted site was more than double that in the drained site. This difference was mostly driven by very fine roots <1 mm, which accounted for 51 % of the total root biomass and were mostly (75 %) located in the upper 20 cm. For roots <1 mm, SRA did not differ between the sites. However, SRA of the 1-2 mm and 2-5 mm diameter roots was higher in the drained than in the rewetted site. Root age did not differ between sites.

Conclusions: The size-dependent opposite patterns between root biomass and their functional characteristics under contrasting water regimes indicate differences between fine and coarse roots in their response to environmental changes. Root age distribution points to similar root turnover rates between the sites, while higher root biomass in the rewetted site clearly indicates larger tree C stocks below ground under rewetting, supporting the C sink function of the ecosystem.

Keywords: Alnus glutinosa; Alder forest; annual growth rings; biomass distribution; fine roots; forest peatland; functional traits; rewetting; root age; specific root area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alnus*
  • Biomass
  • Ecosystem
  • Forests
  • Plant Roots
  • Soil


  • Soil