, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 293–303 | Cite as

Rooting big and deep rapidly: the ecological roots of pine species distribution in southern Europe

  • Enrique Andivia
  • Paolo Zuccarini
  • Beatriz Grau
  • Felicidad de Herralde
  • Pedro Villar-Salvador
  • Robert SavéEmail author
Original Article


Key message

The rapid production of a large, deep root system during seedling establishment is critical for pines to colonize dry Mediterranean locations.


Root properties can influence plant drought resistance, and consequently plant species distribution. Root structure strongly varies across biomes partly as a result of phylogeny. However, whether the spatial distribution of phylogenetically close plant species is linked to differences in root properties remains unclear. We examined whether root properties mediate the strong correlation between summer drought intensity and the spatial segregation of pine species native to southern Europe. For this, we compared the seedling root growth and structure of five ecologically distinct pine species grown in 360 L rhizotrons for 19 months under typical hot and dry Mediterranean conditions. We studied the mountain and boreo-alpine pines Pinus sylvestris and Pinus nigra, and the Mediterranean pines Pinus pinaster, Pinus pinea, and Pinus halepensis. Mediterranean pines formed deep roots faster than mountain pines, their shoots and roots grew faster and had higher root growth, especially P. halepensis, at low air temperature. By the end of the study, Mediterranean pines had larger root systems than mountain pines. Neither distribution of root mass with depth nor root-to-shoot mass ratio varied significantly among species. Across species, minimal annual rainfall to which species are exposed in their range related negatively to root growth but positively to specific root length and the time needed for roots to reach a depth of 40 cm. This study highlights the importance of root growth as a driver of pine distribution in southern Europe and suggests that rapidly producing a large, deep root system may be a key attribute for pines to colonize dry Mediterranean locations.


Drought resistance Pinus Rhizotron Root growth Root structure Rooting depth Specific root length 



Research was supported by the projects Life MEDACC, AGL2011-24296 ECOLPIN (MICIIN), CGL2014-53308-P (SERAVI), Centres CERCA of Generalitat de Catalunya and the network REMEDINAL 3 (S2013/MAE-2719) of the CAM. EA was supported by postdoctoral grant “Ayudas para contratos para la formación postdoctoral” (FPDI-2013-15573) from the Spanish Government. We thank Laia Serra and Christian Morales for their technical assistance and Verónica Cruz-Alonso for figure preparation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

468_2018_1777_MOESM1_ESM.docx (789 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 789 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forest Ecology and Restoration Group, Departmento de Ciencias de la VidaUniversidad de AlcaláMadridSpain
  2. 2.Plant Science AreaIRTA-Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia AgroalimentariesBarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.CREAFCampus de Bellaterra, Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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