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Tropical forest root characteristics and resource acquisition strategies are underrepresented in vegetation and global models, hampering the prediction of forest–climate feedbacks for these carbon-rich ecosystems. Lowland tropical forests often have globally unique combinations of high taxonomic and functional biodiversity, rainfall seasonality, and strongly weathered infertile soils, giving rise to distinct patterns in root traits and functions compared with higher latitude ecosystems. We provide a roadmap for integrating recent advances in our understanding of tropical forest belowground function into vegetation models, focusing on water and nutrient acquisition. We offer comparisons of recent advances in empirical and model understanding of root characteristics that represent important functional processes in tropical forests. We focus on: (1) fine-root strategies for soil resource exploration, (2) coupling and trade-offs in fine-root water vs nutrient acquisition, and (3) aboveground–belowground linkages in plant resource acquisition and use. We suggest avenues for representing these extremely diverse plant communities in computationally manageable and ecologically meaningful groups in models for linked aboveground–belowground hydro-nutrient functions. Tropical forests are undergoing warming, shifting rainfall regimes, and exacerbation of soil nutrient scarcity caused by elevated atmospheric CO2. The accurate model representation of tropical forest functions is crucial for understanding the interactions of this biome with the climate.


This article was originally published in New Phytologist, volume 242, in 2024. The definitive version is available at or via this link.

nph19561-sup-0001-datasets1.csv (23 kB)
Dataset S1 Raw data for Panama roots used in Box 1.

nph19561-sup-0002-datasets2.csv (4 kB)
Dataset S2 Raw data for Puerto Rico roots used in Box 1.

nph19561-sup-0003-datasets3.csv (226 kB)
Dataset S3 Raw data for Panama roots used in Box 2.

nph19561-sup-0004-datasets4.csv (3 kB)
Dataset S4 Raw data for Singapore roots referenced in Box 2 and in Notes S1.

nph19561-sup-0005-datasets5.csv (5 kB)
Dataset S5 Raw data for Costa Rica roots used in Box 3.

nph19561-sup-0006-datasets6.csv (1 kB)
Dataset S6 Raw data for Panama root stoichiometry used in Box 4.

nph19561-sup-0007-notess1.docx (1422 kB)
Notes S1 Methodological details and results in the main text and boxes.


The authors. Published by New Phytologist (the Journal), the New Phytologist Trust and Blackwell Publishing.



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