Elevated CO2, nitrogen-uptake efficiency, nitrogen-uptake fraction, nitrogen-uptake model, nitrogen-use efficiency, optimal foraging by roots, optimal rooting depth, root distributions, root strategies
CO 2-enrichment experiments consistently show that rooting depth increases when trees are grown at elevated CO 2 (eCO 2), leading in some experiments to increased capture of available soil nitrogen (N) from deeper soil. However, the link between N uptake and root distributions remains poorly represented in forest ecosystem and global land-surface models. Here, this link is modeled and analyzed using a new optimization hypothesis ( MaxNup) for root foraging in relation to the spatial variability of soil N, according to which a given total root mass is distributed vertically in order to maximize annual N uptake. MaxNup leads to analytical predictions for the optimal vertical profile of root biomass, maximum rooting depth, and N-uptake fraction (i.e., the proportion of plant-available soil N taken up annually by roots). We use these predictions to gain new insight into the behavior of the N-uptake fraction in trees growing at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory free-air CO 2-enrichment experiment. We also compare MaxNup with empirical equations previously fitted to root-distribution data from all the world's plant biomes, and find that the empirical equations underestimate the capacity of root systems to take up N.