Root Turnover and Relocation in the Soil Profile in Response to Seasonal Water Variation in a Natural Stand of Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)

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Tree Physiology






Oxford University Press

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Juniper species are noted for long-lived foliage, low and persistent gas exchange activity and drought tolerance. Because leaves and roots of the same species are thought to be similar in structure and life history, we hypothesized that Juniperus osteosperma (Torr.) Little (Utah juniper) fine roots would reflect the persistent aboveground foliage characteristic of this species. We monitored fine roots, less than 1 mm in diameter, by minirhizotron imaging to a depth of 150 cm over two growing seasons from April 2002 to December 2003. We measured fine root numbers, length, diameter and noted the time of birth and death of root segments. We correlated our root data with soil water potential measured by thermocouple psychrometry and ecosystem evapotranspiration measured by ecosystem eddy flux. Median fine root lifespan, determined by the Kaplan-Meier product-limit method, was about one year, much less than foliage lifespan estimates of more than five years. Yet, roots of juniper live much longer than those of other Great Basin species. The median survivorship of shallow and deep roots was 144 and 448 days, respectively. Production of new roots was observed during periods of favorable soil water potential and there was a seasonal progression of increased new roots and root length during the warm season toward lower soil depths with root loss in the upper soil layers. This was also reflected in water extraction which progressed to greater soil depths later in the warm season. Aboveground, rates of ecosystem evapotranspiration decreased with decreasing soil water potentials in a similar manner in both 2002 and 2003, reflecting the relocation of roots to available water at depth. Juniper exhibited a flexible root depth distribution throughout the 20 months of this study, indicating the potential to respond to shifting soil water resources despite long fine root lifespans.


Originally published by Oxford University Press. Publisher's PDF available through remote link.