Roots of Cooperation: Can Root Graft Networks Benefit Trees Under Stress? [post]

Alejandra Vovides, Marie-Christin Wimmler, Falk Schrewe, Thorsten Balke, Martin Zwanzig, Cyril Piou, Etienne Delay, Jorge López-Portillo, Uta Berger
2020 unpublished
The occurrence of natural root grafts, the functional union of roots of the same or different trees1–3, is common and shared across tree species2. However, their significance for forest ecology remains little understood. While early research suggested negative effects of root grafting (i.e. increases the risk of pathogen transmission)4,5, recent evidence supports the hypothesis that it is an adaptive strategy that reduces stress6–8 by facilitating resource exchange9,10. Here by analysing
more » ... e root graft networks, we show evidence of cooperation-associated benefits of root grafting. Grafted trees were found to dominate the upper canopy of the forest, and as the probability of grafting and the frequency of grafted groups increased with a higher environmental stress, the mean group size (number of trees within groups) decreased. While root networks could form randomly (i.e. trees do not actively 'choose' neighbours to graft to)11,12, the increased frequency and reduced group sizes in higher-stress environments point to the existence of underlying mechanisms that regulate 'optimal size' group selection related to resource use within cooperating groups8,13,14. This work calls for further studies to better understand tree interactions (i.e. network hydraulic redistribution)15 and their consequences for individual tree and forest stand resilience and water-use efficiency.
doi:10.21203/ fatcat:ilsjd75ahvg5pfmu27wfyy5q7a