Plant and Soil

, Volume 298, Issue 1–2, pp 69–79 | Cite as

Does low soil base saturation affect fine root properties of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.)?

  • Anika K. Richter
  • Lorenz Walthert
  • Emmanuel Frossard
  • Ivano Brunner
Regular Article


It is generally believed that high soil solution Al3+ in acidic soils with low base saturation (BS), negatively influences the properties of fine roots. Fine roots from European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) trees growing in highly acidic soils with very low BS and potentially high Al3+ concentration in the soil solution were analysed and the dependency of fine root properties on soil BS was measured. The fine roots were sampled down to 1 m depth at seven forest sites located on the Swiss Plateau. These sites varied in their BS from 1.4 to 11.4% in the mineral layers. We evaluated relationships between the BS of these mineral layers and fine root properties, such as ratio between bio- and necromass (live/dead ratio), specific root length (SRL), root tip abundance (RTA), root branching abundance (RBA), O2-consumption, and the Ca/Al molar ratio in the fine root tissue. The fine root properties were compared not only with the BS of the soil, but also with the Ca/Al molar ratio in the fine root tissues. Significant relations of fine root properties occurred when the soils of the seven sites were grouped into two BS groups (<5 and 5–10%). The live/dead ratio, the RTA, the RBA, the O2-consumption, and Ca/Al molar ratio were lower in the group of BS <5% than in the group 5–10%. Decreases in the morphological properties and in the O2-consumption were related to decrease in the Ca/Al molar ratio of the fine root tissues. There is evidence that the fine root properties are negatively influenced, nevertheless, fine root systems of mature European beech in their natural ecological environment seem to be able to compensate adverse effects of low BS.


Aluminium toxicity Ca/Al molar ratio Fagus sylvatica Fine root morphology 



base saturation (%)


root tip abundance (n g−1)


root branching abundance (n g−1)


specific root length (cm g−1)


cation exchange capacity (mmolc kg−1)



We thank Roger Köchli for managing the fieldwork, Sven Knollmann for providing helping hands in data acquisition, the group of Daniele Pezzotta for element analyses, the group of Emmanuel Frossard for constructive discussions about this work, and Silvia Dingwall for improving our English. This study was financed by the VELUX Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anika K. Richter
    • 1
  • Lorenz Walthert
    • 1
  • Emmanuel Frossard
    • 2
  • Ivano Brunner
    • 1
  1. 1.Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL)BirmensdorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institut of Plant ScienceLindauSwitzerland

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