ECOPAR Comparative ecology of organisms, communities and ecosystems


I am intrigued by the plant underground scene…

Being sessile, how do plants make sure they get enough to eat and drink from the highly complex and diverse soils they root in? How do they steer their roots to be the efficient uptake organs they need to be under such variable conditions? Why do species have different roots, and how do plants from the same species alter their roots in different environments? I am working to further explore what determines the variety of root properties that we observe in nature once we start digging the soil beneath our feet?

During my PhD research at Wageningen University, I started addressing these questions, and we learned that that there are many different root strategies that plants can adopt: they can change the amount of roots, the shape of their roots (e.g., thickness, branching), or form tight collaborations with fungal symbionts in order to secure the uptake of water and nutrients from the soil and grow in different environments. And although these strategies may differ between species and the environments they grow in, they may be equally adaptive. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I focused on the interactions between plants of different prairie grass species and associated microbes in their rhizo- and endosphere.

As a postdoctoral researcher at CEFE, I will further study how roots respond to environmental change – notably along an altitudinal gradient – at the community level, and across- and within-species. Together with a multidisciplinary team, we collect data on root and aboveground plant traits, soil biota and abiota, in order to unravel which mechanisms determine vegetation responses to environmental change.

In 2018, we collected plants along an altitudinal gradient in the French Alps, between 1400 and 2400 m asl (Video on Root Research in the French Alps). By measuring the leaf and root properties of these plants, we want to find out if plants of the same species alter their leaves and roots when they grow at a low altitude with warmer temperatures, and more fertile soils, compared to when they grow on poor, dry soils at high altitudes. This can tell us something about the ability of species to deal with environmental change, such as a changing climate.


Weemstra M. 2017: Belowground Uptake Strategies. How fine-root traits determine tree growth. PhD Dissertation, Wageningen University. 10.18174/400247

Weemstra M, Sterck F, Kuyper T, Mohren F, Visser E, Mommer L. (2017). Root trait plasticity of beech (Fagus sylvatica) and spruce (Picea abies) trees on contrasting soils. Plant and Soil, 415: 75-188. 10.1007/s11104-016-3148-y

Weemstra M, Mommer L, Visser E, van Ruijven J, Kuyper T, Mohren F, Sterck F. Towards a multidimensional root trait framework: a tree root review. (2016). Tansley review. New Phytologist, 211: 1159-1169. 10.1111/nph.14003

Zhang, L, Copini P, Weemstra M, Sterck F. (2015). Functional ratios among leaf, xylem and phloem areas in branches change with shade tolerance, but not with local light conditions, across temperate tree species. New Phytologist, 209: 1566-1575. 10.1111/nph.13731

Weemstra M, Eilmann B, Sass-Klaassen U, Sterck F. (2013). Summer droughts limit tree growth across 10 temperate species on a productive forest site. Forest Ecology and Management, 306: 342–149. 10.1016/j.foreco.2013.06.007

Sterck FJ, Duursma R, Pearcy R, Valladares F, Cieslak M, Weemstra M. (2013). Plasticity influencing the light compensation point offsets the specialization for light niches across shrub species in a tropical forest understory. Journal of Ecology. 101(4): 971–980. Doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12076

Mommer L, Weemstra M. (2012). The role of roots in the resource economics spectrum. New Phytologist, 195(4): 725-727. 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2012.04247.x

Cornelissen JHC, Sass-Klaassen U, Poorter L, ..., Weemstra M, ... (2012). Controls on coarse wood decay in temperate tree species: Birth of the LOGLIFE Experiment. AMBIO. A Journal of the Human Environment, 41 Suppl 3: 231–45. 10.1007/s13280-012-0304-3