Scaling Root Processes: Global Impacts Workshop
Credit for photos: Susan Alterio, Roser Matamala, Richard Norby, Colleen Iversen

Scaling Root Processes: Global Impacts (supported by the Department of Energy, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science)

Venue: Key Bridge Marriot, Arlington, VA, USA

March 7-9, 2012

There is increasing awareness that the aboveground and belowground components of an ecosystem greatly influence one other and that together they form a continuum with the soil that controls ecosystem properties and responses to climate variables. Plant roots are the ones that facilitate this continuum. Plants provide the organic substrates required for the activity of the organisms associated to roots and for the soil decomposer community. Decomposers break down dead plant material, providing mineralized nutrients that determine plant productivity and community composition over various time scales. Root-microbial-soil interactions often lead to the formation and stabilization of soil aggregates and promote other mechanisms that help preserve otherwise labile soil organic matter, resulting in both sequestration of carbon and maintenance of a reservoir for nutrient supply in soils. Yet, the ecosystem carbon flow that fuels this continuum through the root system is largely unknown due to major hindrances to the study and modeling of belowground root dynamics.

Independent studies of belowground pools and fluxes of carbon have given only a rough, aggregated view of the plant-soil continuum. At present, integrated studies and syntheses are lacking, however, efforts aimed particularly at discerning the co-dependencies among the multiple fluxes connecting root and soil carbon pools and their relations to aboveground pools and fluxes are needed to improve land and earth-system model representations and reduce model uncertainties. Thus, an urgent need exists for both the experimentalist and modeling communities to better coordinate efforts to conceptualize and parameterize belowground dynamics to improve scientific understanding of the terrestrial carbon cycle and the accuracy of terrestrial responses to climate change.


The goals of this workshop is to bring together a diverse community of scientists with interest in the processes and modeling of root ecology. The workshop will identify the state of the science in the understanding and modeling of critical root ecological processes; gaps and/or deficiencies in current process knowledge and model representations; and a path forward to provide the necessary process understanding/observations and model improvements to robustly incorporate root dynamics and plant-soil-microbe continuum processes into models.