Long range lateral root activity by neo-tropical savanna trees

Leonel Da S.L. Sternberg, Sandra Bucci, Augusto Franco, Guillermo Goldstein, William A. Hoffman, Frederick C. Meinzer, Marcelo Z. Moreira, Fabian Scholz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The extent of water uptake by lateral roots of savanna trees in the Brazilian highlands was measured by irrigating two 2 by 2 m plots with deuterium-enriched water and assaying for the abundance of deuterium in stem water from trees inside and at several distances from the irrigation plots. Stem water of trees inside the irrigation plots was highly enriched compared to that of control trees, whereas stem water of trees just outside the plot was only slightly enriched compared with that from control trees. Therefore, bulk water uptake in the savanna trees studied occurred in a horizontally restricted area, indicating that their rooting structure was characterized by a dense cluster of short roots associated with the main trunk and a few meandering long range lateral roots. This root architecture was confirmed by extensive excavations of several species. The same deuterium labeling pattern was observed in an Amazonian tropical forest. The savanna ecosystem, however, differed from the tropical forest ecosystem by having a greater proportion of trees outside the irrigation plots having stem water with deuterium levels significantly above background. This leads us to the conclusion that savanna trees have more or longer lateral roots compared to tropical forest trees. The greater lateral root development in savanna trees may be an adaptation for more efficient nutrient absorption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-178
Number of pages10
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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