Optimisation of root traits to provide enhanced ecosystem services in agricultural systems: A focus on cover crops

Marcus Griffiths, Benjamin M. Delory, Vanessica Jawahir, Kong M. Wong, G. Cody Bagnall, Tyler G. Dowd, Dmitri A. Nusinow, Allison J. Miller, Christopher N. Topp

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Roots are the interface between the plant and the soil and play a central role in multiple ecosystem processes. With intensification of agricultural practices, rhizosphere processes are being disrupted and are causing degradation of the physical, chemical and biotic properties of soil. However, cover crops, a group of plants that provide ecosystem services, can be utilised during fallow periods or used as an intercrop to restore soil health. The effectiveness of ecosystem services provided by cover crops varies widely as very little breeding has occurred in these species. Improvement of ecosystem service performance is rarely considered as a breeding trait due to the complexities and challenges of belowground evaluation. Advancements in root phenotyping and genetic tools are critical in accelerating ecosystem service improvement in cover crops. In this study, we provide an overview of the range of belowground ecosystem services provided by cover crop roots: (1) soil structural remediation, (2) capture of soil resources and (3) maintenance of the rhizosphere and building of organic matter content. Based on the ecosystem services described, we outline current and promising phenotyping technologies and breeding strategies in cover crops that can enhance agricultural sustainability through improvement of root traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)751-770
Number of pages20
JournalPlant, Cell & Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • exudation
  • genetic selection
  • nitrogen fixation
  • polyculture
  • resource capture
  • root phenotyping
  • soil compaction
  • soil organic matter


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