Browsing Crops, Environment & Land Use Programme by Funder "German Science Foundation"
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Methodological tests of the use of trace elements as tracers to assess root activityBackground and aims There is increasing interest in how resource utilisation in grassland ecosystems is affected by changes in plant diversity and abiotic conditions. Research to date has mainly focussed on aboveground responses and there is limited insight into belowground processes. The aim of this study was to test a number of assumptions for the valid use of the trace elements caesium, lithium, rubidium and strontium as tracers to assess the root activity of several grassland species. Methods We carried out a series of experiments addressing the reliability of soil labelling, injection density, incubation time, application rate and the comparability of different tracers in a multiple tracer method. Results The results indicate that it is possible to achieve a reliable labelling of soil depths. Tracer injection density affected the variability but not the mean level of plant tracer concentrations. Tracer application rates should be based on pilot studies, because of site- and species-specific responses. The trace elements did not meet prerequisites to be used in a multiple tracer method. Conclusions The use of trace elements as tracers is potentially a very useful tool to give insight into plant root activity at different soil depths. This work highlights some of the main benefits and pitfalls of the method and provides specific recommendations to assist the design of tracer experiments and interpretation of the results.