January 27, 2017

A good reason to love your roots


This Valentine’s day, we’re celebrating indigenous rainforest cultures around the word and the people who love their roots and are dedicated to protecting their forest. For all of us.

There are plenty of reasons to love tree roots as well as cultural roots. They physically anchor trees to the ground, allowing them to grow to 100 metres tall even in the thinnest of rainforest soil. Unseen and often forgotten, roots are the cleverest bit of the tree, creating a vast underground network and helping to keep our planet cool.

Often making up a third of the total biomass of a tree, roots store a massive amount of carbon. When rainforest is destroyed, this carbon is released as climate-warming CO2. Across Cool Earth’s partnerships, 60 million tonnes of carbon are locked safely away in the roots of rainforest trees.

Recent research shows that roots might do even more for the climate.1 When temperatures rise, roots go deeper and start to break down rocks and minerals in and underneath the soil. This process reduces CO2 in the atmosphere, helping to counteract the rise in temperature. The researchers looked at the mountain forests of Peru and said that the roots seem to “act like a thermostat, drawing more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere when it is warm and less when it is cooler.”

Trees also share carbon with others through their roots. Underneath the soil, a vast network of fungi and fine plant roots grow together. This network allows the exchange of nutrients and water between plants and trees. Trees can help their neighbours by sharing these nutrients and information, or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network.  But it also transfers surplus carbon – even between different species. This cooperation between species could make forests better at coping with climate change.2

“It’s a shift in how we look at trees in a forest. Neighbouring trees can actually share fixed carbon and not solely compete with each other.” Dr. Tamir Llein of the University of Basel

Not only are they very clever, roots are vital to the survival of trees and the survival of the planet. That’s why we’re loving our roots this Valentine’s Day, and encouraging you to do the same.

A good reason to love your roots

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  1. Doughty, C. E., L. L. Taylor, C. A. J. Girardin, Y. Malhi, and D. J. Beerling (2014), Montane forest root growth and soil organic layer depth as potential factors stabilizing Cenozoic global change, Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 983–990, doi:10.1002/2013GL058737

  2. Klein, T., Siegwolf, R. T., & Körner, C. (2016). Belowground carbon trade among tall trees in a temperate forest. Science,352(6283), 342-344

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