The lateral spread of tree root systems in boreal forests: Estimates based on N-15 uptake and distribution of sporocarps of ectomycorrhizal fungi

S. G. Gottlicher, A. F. S. Taylor, H. Grip, N. R. Betson, E. Valinger, M. N. Hogberg, P. Hogberg

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In nutrient poor environments, such as boreal forests, many of the most important interactions between plants take place belowground. Here, we report the results of two approaches to obtain estimates of the lateral spread of tree roots.

In a Pinus sylvestris forest and a Picea abies dominated forest, lateral root spread was estimated by analysing the distribution of ectomycorrhizal sporocarps on tree-girdled and adjacent non-girdled plots and by a N-15 uptake experiment, where the soil in circular 1 m(2) plots was labelled and the uptake by surrounding trees was studied.

Both methods gave similar estimates of lateral root spread, i.e. between 4 and 5 m, and both studies indicated overlapping of root systems. Up to 11 trees took up tracer from a 1 m(2) labelled area, although not all trees close to the N-15-labelled area took up tracer.

The study clearly showed the dependence of ectomycorrhizal fungi on photosynthate and indicated a high potential for belowground competition between trees due to substantially overlapping root systems. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-81
Number of pages7
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2008


  • Boreal forest
  • ectomycorrhizal roots
  • ectomycorrhizal sporocarps
  • Picea abies
  • Pinus sylvestris
  • tree root system
  • vaccinium spp.
  • 15N uptake

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