Root exudation links root traits to soil functioning in agroecosystems

Adam C. von Haden, William C. Eddy, Mark B. Burnham, Edward R. Brzostek, Wendy H. Yang, Evan H. DeLucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and aims: Root exudation is a key process for plant nutrient acquisition, but the controls on root exudation and its relationship to soil C and N processes in agroecosystems are unclear. We hypothesized that root exudation rates would be related to root morphological traits, N fertilization, and soil moisture. We also anticipated that root exudation would be correlated with bulk soil enzyme activity. Methods: Root exudation, root traits, and bulk soil extracellular enzyme activity were assessed in maize (Zea mays L.), soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.), biomass sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench), giant miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.). Measurements were taken in situ during two growing seasons with contrasting precipitation regimes, and N fertilization rate was varied in sorghum during one year. Results: Specific root exudation (per unit root surface area) was negatively related to root diameter and was generally higher in annuals than perennials. Sorghum N fertilization did not affect root exudation rates, and soil moisture regime had no effect on annual root exudation rates within maize, sorghum, and miscanthus. Specific root exudation was negatively related to bulk soil C- and N-degrading soil enzyme activities. Conclusion: Intrinsic plant characteristics appeared more important than environmental variables in controlling in situ root exudation rates. The relationships between root diameter, root exudation, and soil C and N processes link root morphological traits to soil functions and demonstrate the potential tradeoffs among plant nutrient acquisition strategies in agroecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPlant and Soil
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Root economic space
  • Root exudation
  • Root traits
  • Soil carbon
  • Soil enzymes
  • Soil nutrients

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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