Roots across the "tree" tree of life: Linking root and microbial traits with soil biogeochemistry

Not all forest soils are the same. This project is helping us understand whether differences in roots drive differences in soils. 

Meghan Midgley and Michelle Catania collecting soil and roots from an American beech in The Morton Arboretum’s Living Collections in September 2016.


Despite decades of research linking leaf properties to soil processes, relationships between tree root traits and soil carbon and nutrient cycling have been largely ignored. Indeed, tree species vary considerably in their root traits, which suggests that a new framework is needed to capture the key drivers of variation in forest soil biogeochemistry. This research addresses the following questions: 1) what are the relationships among tree root traits, microbial traits, and soil biogeochemistry? 2) what is the relative importance of leaf vs. root effects on soil biogeochemistry? 3) do more closely related tree species have similar root traits and effects on soils? To address these questions, we are examining root effects on soils under different species of trees in The Morton Arboretum’s diverse Living Collection and comparing these effects to those in soils exposed to both root and leaf inputs in the Arboretum’s historic Forestry Plots. As tree ranges shift in response to climate change, understanding the drivers of variation in forest soil properties will enable us to predict how these new tree communities will function. 

Funding Sources

The Morton Arboretum

Project Status