Plant and Soil

, Volume 270, Issue 1, pp 321–330 | Cite as

Light and tree size influence belowground development in yellow birch and sugar maple



The effects of light and tree size on the root architecture and mycorrhiza of yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britton) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh) growing in the understory of deciduous forests in southern Québec, Canada were studied. At the study site, small (<50 m2), medium (101–200 m2) and large (201–500 m2) canopy gaps were investigated. From within these gaps, 17 yellow birch and 23 sugar maple saplings from 40 to 600 cm in height were sampled. In both species, root biomass and morphological traits were strongly correlated with tree size, but only weakly with light availability. Increased root biomass was primarily allocated to coarse roots and secondarily to fine roots. Yellow birch roots were longer, had a larger area, more endings and branches and grew more rapidly than sugar maple roots. Mycorrhizal colonization increased with available light and declined with tree age in sugar maple and was positively associated with tree size in yellow birch. The study demonstrates that tree size is a very important determinant of how belowground systems acclimate to understory conditions.


light mycorrhizal colonization roots sugar maple yellow birch 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Forestière Interuniversitaire (GREFi)Concordia UniversityMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Département des Sciences Biologiquess, GREFiUniversité du Québec à MontréalSucc.Centre-ville, MontréalCanada

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