Root Ecology

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International postgraduate course

Root Ecology

Root interactions in natural and agricultural ecosystems

19 - 24 January 2020

Parkhotel De Bosrand, Ede, the Netherlands


Roots fulfil a variety of ecosystem functions, anchoring plants in soil, acquiring nutrient and water and creating habitats for root-associated microbes. After plants colonized the terrestrial environments, roots as specialized organs evolved that had to deal with the challenges that their environment provided. Roots in agricultural production systems are also confronted with novel challenges that could contribute to decreased resource efficiency:

  • Climate change affects average temperature and rainfall (amount and distribution)
  • Enhanced levels of atmospheric CO2 reduces nutritional quality of our foods
  • Soil degradation reduces nutrient availability and provides poorer substrates for anchorage
  • Abiotic and biotic stresses, alone and in combination, increase and impose a threat to sustainable crop production.
  • Global nutrient imbalances pose constraints to sustainability both in cases of shortages and excess of nutrients
  • Monocropping systems are subject to novel selection mechanisms and offer novel opportunities for breeding

Significant research has been done on plant responses to changes in the environment, in which an important role for roots has been recognized. However, given the complexity of belowground dynamics and measurement thereof, understanding root functioning has remained challenging.

Recently, there have been many breakthroughs in the quantification of root traits and of root systems and their functions in different environments. Phylogenetic constraints to root structure and functioning, including the option to outsource several root function to root-associated microbes, are better understood. Root interactions, both with the soil physical and chemical environment, and with soil biota (including plant roots of other species or genetically distinct individuals of the same species) are seeing major breakthroughs. There is increased understanding how our understanding of roots in natural ecosystems can help making our crops more resource efficient, while work on below-ground resource efficiency in agricultural ecosystems enriches ecological theories. Effectively coupling studies of root interactions at various spatial and temporal scales would give promising impact towards addressing the role of roots in current and future, climate-changed, natural and agricultural ecosystems.

The central scope of this course will be the fundamental concepts of root ecology, with a focus on root interactions with the abiotic and biotic environment. Specific topics will include:

  • Defining root structure (cellular, organ), architecture, and function (Arriving at a common set of definitions used throughout the course)
  • Root evolution and the need to include an extended view of the root phenotype
  • Biotic interactions (the rhizobiome, mycorrhizal associations)
  • Biotic interactions between roots
  • Abiotic interactions (root-soil and soil water) and their role in root interactions
  • Root interactions in novel cropping systems (intercropping)
  • Root phenotyping and roots as the novel arena for breeding for resource efficiency
  • Root modelling
Course Set-up

root_ecology.jpgThe course is composed of a series of lectures, discussions sessions, working group activities, hands-on data analyses, excursions to root research sites, and a final course debate of a case study.

1. Lectures and Discussion
The course starts off (Sunday afternoon before dinner) with an introduction lecture by an invited speaker to give an overview of the current state of knowledge on roots, their structure, function and interactions. This will brush up the knowledge of all participants, needed to make the subsequent lectures most fruitful. After each lecture (40 minutes) a discussion of 30-45 minutes is held, convened by about three participants, who challenge the speaker on the presentation and the 2-3 papers that the speaker submitted a-priori. Prior to the course, participants are asked to indicate after which speaker they want to convene the discussion. Accordingly, participants are assigned to a convener group and they receive the relevant literature of that speaker.

2. Poster Carousel
Prior to the course, participants must submit a poster in PDF, which will be printed by the course office (A1-size). The poster must contain your name and affiliation, title and short description of your research project with one highlight (something exciting) and the reason why you want to participate in this course. Posters will be presented and discussed during a poster carousel at the beginning of the course. Posters will remain in the lecture room throughout the course.

3. Working groups
Afternoons working groups (5-6 participants per group) will envision future developments in root research in the context of root interactions (and in the framework of interactions of root ecologists who work in natural and agricultural ecosystems). In these sessions, groups should focus on the cutting edge issue in the field chosen by the group.  Besides addressing conceptual frameworks, groups must address which experimental design, methods, models and analysis are appropriate to address the issue. At the end of the course groups will present the output of their work.

4. Site visits, hands-on tours and data analysis
Besides working group activities, time will be allotted to visiting ongoing root research projects at various locations and analysis of actual data sets from the projects. For data analysis, various approaches will be compared for their effectiveness in addressing specific questions focused on for the project where the data originated. Outcome in these activities will be linked to the group work assignment where groups must include a methodological and analysis component in the group work output.

5. Debate sessions
Besides the working group presentations participants will be presented with a set of cases/propositions about the future direction of root science and where it should lead us given the global changes. Two groups will be paired to address a case or proposition after which they will discuss the pros and cons.

Speakers / Organisers
General information
Target Group The course is aimed at PhD candidates, postdocs, academic staff, as well as other professionals with an interest in root research
Group Size Min. 20, max. 40 participants
Course duration 5 days
Language of instruction English
Frequency of recurrence Every three years
Number of credits 1.5 ECTS
Lecturers See above
Prior knowledge Basic knowledge of root ecology is assumed
Location Parkhotel de Bosrand, Ede, the Netherlands


Fees 1
a) PE&RC / WIMEK / WASS / EPS / VLAG / WIAS / RSEE PhD candidates with an approved TSP
b) PhD candidates of the group of Kristian Thorup-Kristensen at the University of Copenhagen
€   330,- €   380,-
a) All other PhD candidates
b) Postdocs and staff of the above mentioned Graduate Schools
€   740,- €   790,-
All others € 1.070,- € 1.120,-

1 The course fee includes accommodation, all meals, coffee/tea, and a reader. It does not include beverages in the bar.
2 The Early-Bird Fee applies to anyone who REGISTERS ON OR BEFORE 12 JANUARY 2020


  • If you need an invoice to complete your payment, please send an email to, including ALL relevant details that should be mentioned on the invoice (e.g., purchase order no., specific addresses, attendees, etc.).
  • The Early-Bird policy is such that the moment of REGISTRATION (and not payment) is leading for determining the fee that applies to you.
  • Please make sure that your payment is arranged within two weeks after your registration.
  • It is the participant's responsibility to make sure that he/she (or his/her secretary) completes the payment correctly and in time.
PE&RC Cancellation Conditions
  • Up to 4 (four) weeks prior to the start of the course, cancellation is free of charge.
  • Up to 2 (two) weeks prior to the start of the course, a fee of € 330,- will be charged.
  • In case of cancellation within two weeks prior to the start of the course, a fee of € 740,- will be charged.
  • If you do not show at all, a fee of € 1.070,- will nevertheless be charged.

Note: If you would like to cancel your registration, ALWAYS inform us (and do note that you will be kept to the cancellation conditions)

More information

Dr Lennart Suselbeek (PE&RC)
Phone: +31 (0) 317 485426


To register, please enter your details below and click "Register".