Root diameter, a critical indicator of root physiological function, varies greatly among tree species, but the underlying mechanism of this high variability is unclear. Here, we sampled 50 tree species across tropical and temperate zones in China, and measured root morphological and anatomical traits along the first five branch orders in each species. Our objectives were (i) to reveal the relationships between root diameter, cortical thickness and stele diameter among tree species in tropical and temperate forests, and (ii) to investigate the relationship of both root morphological and anatomical traits with divergence time during species radiation. The results showed that root diameter was strongly affected by cortical thickness but less by stele diameter in both tropical and temperate species. Changes in cortical thickness explained over 90% of variation in root diameter for the first order, and ~74–87% for the second and third orders. Thicker roots displayed greater cortical thickness and more cortical cell layers than thinner roots. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that root diameter, cortical thickness and number of cortical cell layers significantly correlated with divergence time at the family level, showing similar variation trends in geological time. The results also suggested that trees tend to decrease their root cortical thickness rather than stele diameter during species radiation. The close linkage of variations in root morphology and anatomy to phylogeny as demonstrated by the data from the 50 tree species should provide some insights into the mechanism of root diameter variability among tree species.
Agriculture, Forestry, Horticulture, Fishery, Domestic Science, Nutrition