Fine-root functional trait responses to experimental warming: a global meta-analysis

Jinsong Wang, Camille Defrenne, M. Luke McCormack, Lu Yang, Dashuan Tian, Yiqi Luo, Enqing Hou, Tao Yan, Zhaolei Li, Wensheng Bu, Ye Chen, Shuli Niu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Whether and how warming alters functional traits of absorptive plant roots remains to be answered across the globe. Tackling this question is crucial to better understanding terrestrial responses to climate change as fine-root traits drive many ecosystem processes. We carried out a detailed synthesis of fine-root trait responses to experimental warming by performing a meta-analysis of 964 paired observations from 177 publications. Warming increased fine-root biomass, production, respiration and nitrogen concentration as well as decreased root carbon : nitrogen ratio and nonstructural carbohydrates. Warming effects on fine-root biomass decreased with greater warming magnitude, especially in short-term experiments. Furthermore, the positive effect of warming on fine-root biomass was strongest in deeper soil horizons and in colder and drier regions. Total fine-root length, morphology, mortality, life span and turnover were unresponsive to warming. Our results highlight the significant changes in fine-root traits in response to warming as well as the importance of warming magnitude and duration in understanding fine-root responses. These changes have strong implications for global soil carbon stocks in a warmer world associated with increased root-derived carbon inputs into deeper soil horizons and increases in fine-root respiration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1856-1867
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • fine roots
  • functional traits
  • root biomass
  • root dynamics
  • soil depth
  • warming duration
  • warming magnitude

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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