NSCPHD1070 Root ecology

Volume 2015/2016


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In the effort to understand nutrient dynamics in plants and accordingly to improve nutrient uptake and use efficiency in crops, the role of the root system is becoming a new area of interest. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the below-ground world is complex and that various interactions occur between roots and their environment and between roots sharing the same soil volume. Root proliferation and functioning must often be modified to cope with the prevailing conditions in the soil environment such as the avoidance of obstacles and the exploitation of nutrient rich patches or water zones. This post-graduate course focuses on root ecology, how roots grow, function and interact with the surrounding environment. We will discuss differences and similarities between roots in natural ecosystems and roots of agricultural plants and how future research and breeding of agricultural plants can exploit the knowledge obtained from natural systems. Topics dealt with are:


  • Root architecture and foraging

  • Adaptation and plasticity

  • Root strategies and plant life history

  • Root/root interactions



The course is composed of a series of lectures, subsequent discussions, working group activities, a poster session, and a ‘hands-on’ day at the root research lab of Copenhagen University.


1. Lectures and Discussion

Each day starts with international specialists giving their view on the day’s topic. After each lecture, a discussion of 30 minutes is held, which is convened by about 3 participants who challenge the speaker on the presentation and papers that the speaker submitted and which participants will receive before the course.


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

On afternoons (Monday-Thursday) working groups (5-6 persons per group) will envision future development in root research. In these sessions, groups should focus on the cutting edge issue in the field chosen by the group. The ‘million dollar question’ within that field should be defined, presented and justified, and then reshaped by feedback by the speakers and the audience on the Monday evening. Methods and studies which could help answer this question should be suggested and the following three afternoons the groups will work on the assignment writing a position paper or project (pre)proposal. Friday morning groups will present the results.

Note: the invited speakers will stay at least 2-3 days to act as resource persons and interact with participants to support working group activities.


4. Hands-on exercise

On Wednesday we will visit the root research lab of Professor Kristian Thorup-Kristensen in Taastrup, Copenhagen University. Different methods to study roots under field/semi-field conditions will be demonstrated and discussed.


The course is planned in collaboration with Wageningen University.
Please see  www.pe-rc.nl/rootecology for more information, fees and registration.

Learning Outcome


The course is expected to deliver the following benefits to the participants:

  • Participants develop a broader overview of current developments in root research

  • Understanding the complexity of requirements to the root system

  • Hands-on experience of different root methods, and knowledge on the importance of soil and scale in root research

  • Exposure to different approaches/​philosophies/​contexts of research

  • Critical reflection on their own research approach

  • International networking

The literature for the course will be original peer reviewed papers. Each lecturer will suggest 2 papers to read. The papers will be available to the students before the course.

PhD students or similar qualifications
Presentations from international experts, discussions, group work
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 10
  • Preparation
  • 20
  • Project work
  • 30
  • Total
  • 60
2,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Course participation
Oral defence
Presentation of the Group Work
Critical questions from lecturers
Exam registration requirements

Active participation in the course

Marking scale
completed/not completed
Censorship form
No external censorship