New Phytologist has long been at the forefront of research on root biology, curating journal articles that have sought to advance our understanding and modeling of plant-mediated belowground processes, in special journal issues, and in sponsoring collaboration and discussion at symposia and workshops. This trend promises to continue for the foreseeable future; for example, the topic of plant roots will be highlighted in the upcoming 2017 Symposium, ‘Trait covariation: structural and functional relationships in plant ecology’. New Phytologist is now playing a prominent role in advancing the theme of root traits; the number of papers identified by a keyword search on ‘root traits’ in the journal has quintupled in the last 15 years. In a recently published Tansley insight, 2017 Tansley Medal winner Etienne Laliberté proposed six research frontiers for advancing belowground trait-based ecology: redefining fine roots, quantifying trait dimensionality, integrating mycorrhizas, broadening the suite of belowground traits, determining trait–environment linkages, and understanding ecosystem-level consequences. Research papers, Reviews, Letters, and Commentaries published in New Phytologist in recent years have all contributed to our understanding of these research frontiers, and we highlight this burgeoning ‘belowground movement’ in this Virtual Issue. Here, we present recent (2014–2017) papers in which root traits were the dominant focus, including papers describing the general concepts of root traits, how root traits can be harnessed by terrestrial biosphere models, and the relationships among root traits and root function, mycorrhizas, and ecosystem properties.
Richard J. Norby, Editor, New Phytologist
Colleen M. Iversen, Advisor, New Phytologist
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TN, USA
Distribution of fine roots with depth in the soil is an important root trait. In the Amazon rain forest an important fraction of the fine-root population is right at the soil surface, as seen here at the site of the Amazon FACE experiment. Photo by Richard Norby, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TN, USA.