Demographic quantification of carbon and nitrogen dynamics associated with root turnover in white clover

Gavin D. Scott, John A. Baddeley, Christine A. Watson, David Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


As well as capturing resources, roots lose resources during their lives. We quantified carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) losses associated with root turnover in white clover (Trifolium repens L.). We grew contrasting cultivars for 18 weeks in soil microcosms. Using repeated in situ observations, destructive sampling, and demographic analysis, we measured changes in C and N concentrations in dry matter of 1st - or 2nd -order (terminal) roots to derive C and N fluxes into and out of root cohorts. C and N fluxes from roots during turnover depended on cohort age and order. 90% of losses occurred from 2nd -order cohorts younger than 18 weeks. Losses were greater from roots of the larger, faster-growing cultivar Alice than from the smaller lower-yielding cultivar S184. C:N ratios of roots and lost material were similar within each order and between cultivars, but smaller in 2nd - compared with 1st -order roots. C and N losses during root turnover could be equivalent to at least 6% of above-ground dry matter production in S184 and 12% in Alice at the field scale. C and N losses associated with root turnover will have potentially significant and previously unrecognised impacts on crop productivity, resource dynamics and long-term soil fertility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2045-2056
Number of pages12
JournalPlant, Cell & Environment
Issue number9
Early online date21 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

This work formed part of Gavin Scott’s PhD at the University of Aberdeen, funded by the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department (now the Scottish Government's Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division). We thank Prof Ian Bingham and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


  • Journal Article
  • Trifolium repens
  • C and N loss
  • growth
  • nutrients


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