Effects of soil freezing on fine roots in a northern hardwood forest

Natalie L. Cleavitt, Timothy J. Fahey, Peter M. Groffman, Janet P. Hardy, Karen S. Henry, Charles T. Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


We reduced early winter snowpack in four experimental plots at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hamphire for 2 years to examine the mechanisms of root injury associated with soil freezing. Three lines of evidence suggested that direct cellular damage, rather than physical damage associated with frost heaving, was the principal mechanism of root injury: (i) decreases in root vitality were not greater on sites with more frost heaving, (ii) in situ freezing damage was confined to first- and second-order roots in the organic horizons rather than entire root systems, and (iii) tensile strength of fine roots was not significantly compromised by experimental stretching to simulate ice lens formation. Although significant differences in the intensity of soil freezing (depth, rate, and minimum temperature) were observed across the plots, no clear effects of soil freezing intensity on root injury were observed. Snow manipulation had no effect on mycorrhizal colonization of sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) roots. A significant increase in root growth was observed in the second summer after treatments, coincident with a significant pulse of soil nitrate leaching. Through their effects on fine roots, soil freezing events could play an important role in forest ecosystem dynamics in a changing climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-91
Number of pages10
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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