Ground-Penetrating Radar as phenotyping tool for characterizing intraspecific variability in root traits of a widespread conifer
Background and Aim
Drought is the main abiotic stress affecting Mediterranean forests. Root systems are responsible for water uptake, but intraspecific variability in tree root morphology is poorly understood mainly owing to sampling difficulties. The aim of this study was to gain knowledge on the adaptive relevance of rooting traits for a widespread pine using a non-invasive, high-throughput phenotyping technique.
Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) was used to characterize variability in coarse root features (depth, diameter and frequency) among populations of the Mediterranean conifer Pinus halepensis evaluated in a common garden. GPR records were examined in relation to aboveground growth and climate variables at origin of populations.
Variability was detected for root traits among 56 range-wide populations categorized into 16 ecotypes. Root diameter decreased eastward within the Mediterranean basin. In turn, root frequency, but not depth and diameter, decreased following a northward gradient. Root traits also varied with climatic variables at origin such as the ratio of summer to annual precipitation, summer temperature or solar radiation. Particularly, root frequency increased with aridity, whereas root depth and diameter were maximum for ecotypes occupying the thermal midpoint of the species distribution range.
GPR is a high-throughput phenotyping tool that allows detection of intraspecific variation in root traits of P. halepensis and its dependencies on eco-geographic characteristics at origin, thereby informing on the adaptive relevance of root systems for the species. It is also potentially suited for inferring population divergence in resource allocation above- and belowground in forest genetic trials.