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The World’s Roots Are Getting Shallower

The World’s Roots Are Getting Shallower

Row crops typically have shorter roots than the native plants they replace, such as prairie grasses like the switchgrass shown here, which stretches 4.25 meters…

Thursday, Nov 17

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Row crops typically have shorter roots than the native plants they replace, such as prairie grasses like the switchgrass shown here, which stretches 4.25 meters in length. As agricultural areas expand globally, millions of cubic meters of rooted soil critical for carbon and water storage, nutrient cycling, and soil formation are being lost, according to a new study. Credit: Steve Renich/Wikimedia Commons , CC BY 3.0 Source: Earth’s Future

Plant roots act as engineers for Earth’s surface, breaking up bedrock, transporting water and nutrients, and stabilizing landscapes. They’re so important that scientists have hypothesized that their evolution, beginning around 415 million years ago, altered landscapes and the course of Earth’s history.

Today the world’s roots are getting shallower on average, a new study finds. Shallower roots mean there’s less rooted soil, which could lead to decreased carbon storage, less efficient nutrient cycling, and less fertile soils. This newsletter rocks.

Get the most fascinating science news stories of the week in your inbox every Friday. Hauser et al. provide the first estimate of global changes in the volume of rooted soil resulting from human-driven land use. They examined changes in many types of environments but focused on the balance between two in particular: agricultural land , where row crop roots are shallower than those of native grasses, and forests, where woody plant roots typically reach deep into the soil. Agricultural land is expanding greatly as a direct result of human efforts. Meanwhile, forests are expanding in some places, especially in […]

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