Root taxa identification in plant mixtures - current techniques and future challenges

Boris Rewald, Catharina Meinen, Michael Trockenbrodt, Jhonathan E. Ephrath, Shimon Rachmilevitch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background: Studying root biomass, root system distribution and belowground interactions is essential for understanding the composition of plant communities, the impact of global change, and terrestrial biogeochemistry. Most soil samples and minirhizotron pictures hold roots of more than one species or plant individual. The identification of taxa by their roots would allow species-specific questions to be posed; information about root affiliation to plant individuals could be used to determine intra-specific competition. Scope: Researchers need to be able to discern plant taxa by roots as well as to quantify abundances in mixed root samples. However, roots show less distinctive features that permit identification than aboveground organs. This review discusses the primary use of available methods, outlining applications, shortcomings and future developments. Conclusion: Methods are either non-destructive, e. g. visual examination of root morphological criteria in situ, or require excavated and excised root samples. Among the destructive methods are anatomical keys, chemotaxonomic approaches and molecular markers. While some methods allow for discerning the root systems of individual plants, others can distinguish roots on the functional group or plant taxa level; methods such as IR spectroscopy and qPCR allow for quantifying the root biomass proportion of species without manual sorting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-182
Number of pages18
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2012


  • Anatomy and morphology
  • Chemotaxonomy
  • IR Spectroscopy
  • Molecular markers
  • Root biomass
  • Root taxa determination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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