A significant amount of the carbon (C) assimilated in photosynthesis by trees is re-emitted to the atmosphere via the respiratory CO2 flux of roots. Because of technical constraints, we have little understanding of the extent and dynamics of the respiratory CO2 flux of roots at the total root system scale (RCF). This study aimed to fill this gap and to quantify the daily C budget of entire trees. We used aeroponics as a novel approach to measure directly and simultaneously RCF and the net CO2 flux of the entire shoot (SCF), to estimate their night- and day-time contributions to daily tree CO2 budget and to estimate the relative contribution of different root categories to RCF in large saplings of the tropical tree species Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. By maintaining root temperature within a narrow range (24-27.5 °C), we controlled for its effect on RCF, thus allowing the potential relationship between RCF and SCF to be tested. The carbon gain of the fast-growing saplings was 0.79 ± 0.10 g C sapling-1 day-1, with day-time shoot CO2 uptake outweighing night-time shoot and day- and night-time root CO2 losses by a factor of two. Other than a slight rise in the morning hours, RCF was relatively stable and not coupled to the daily dynamics of SCF. Albeit having lower specific respiration rates compared with fine-roots, the relative contributions of coarse-roots (diameter >2 mm) to RCF were substantial because of their large biomass and were estimated to range from 43 to 63% of RCF at midday of different days during the growing season. The results of this study suggest that (i) the entire root system needs to be monitored for its impact on the tree CO2 budget, (ii) RCF cannot be derived from SCF and (iii) the importance of coarse-root respiration to RCF may be greater than appreciated.
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- Ceiba pentandra
- biomass partitioning
- carbon budget
- root respiration
- root-shoot coupling
- root:shoot ratio