Phenolic Profile Highlights Disconnect in Root Tissue Quality Predicted by Elemental- and Molecular-Level Carbon Composition


Fine roots constitute a significant source of plant productivity and litter turnover across terrestrial ecosystems, but less is known about the quantitative and qualitative profile of phenolic compounds within the fine-root architecture, which could regulate the potential contribution of plant roots to the soil organic matter pool. To understand the linkage between traditional macro-elemental and morphological traits of roots and their molecular-level carbon chemistry, researchers analyzed seasonal variations in monomeric yields of the free, bound, and lignin phenols in fine roots (distal five orders) and leaves of Ardisia quinquegona. Fine roots contained two-fold higher concentrations of bound phenols and three-fold higher concentrations of lignin phenols than leaves. Within fine roots, the concentrations of free and bound phenols decreased with increasing root order, and seasonal variation in the phenolic profile was more evident in lower-order than in higher-order roots. The morphological and macro-elemental root traits were decoupled from the quantity, composition, and tissue association of phenolic compounds, revealing the potential inability of these traditional parameters to capture the molecular identity of phenolic carbon within the fine-root architecture and between fine roots and leaves. These results highlight the molecular-level heterogeneity in phenolic carbon composition within the fine-root architecture, and imply that traits that capture the molecular identity of the root construct might better predict the decomposition dynamics within fine-root orders.


Wang, J.-J., N. Tharayil, A. T. Chow, V. Suseela, and H. Zeng. 2015. “Phenolic Profile Within the Fine-Root Branching Orders of an Evergreen Species Highlights a Disconnect in Root Tissue Quality Predicted by Elemental- and Molecular-Level Carbon Composition,” New Phytologist 206(4), 1261–73. DOI: 10.1111/nph.13385.