Plant and Soil

, Volume 440, Issue 1–2, pp 277–292 | Cite as

Bioirrigation: a common mycorrhizal network facilitates the water transfer from deep-rooted pigeon pea to shallow-rooted finger millet under drought

  • Devesh Singh
  • Natarajan Mathimaran
  • Thomas Boller
  • Ansgar KahmenEmail author
Regular Article


Background and aim

Hydraulically lifted water can be redistributed to a neighbouring plant, a process referred to as “bioirrigation”. Facilitation of bioirrigation by beneficial microbes such as arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi that form a common mycorrhizal network (CMN) between neighbouring plants has often been suggested but is not yet well explored. In this study, we tested if the presence of a CMN can facilitate the transfer of hydraulically lifted water from pigeon pea (PP) to finger millet (FM) and ameliorate thereby the water relations of the shallow-rooted FM during drought.


In a compartmented microcosm set up, PP roots were grown up to the bottom layer of the pot to access the soil moisture. Whereas FM roots were restricted into a shallow compartment, separated through a 21 μm nylon mesh, without access to the moist bottom layer. We applied deuterium labelled water to the bottom layer of the pot to test if PP can perform hydraulic lift (HL) and if hydraulically lifted water is transferred to FM via a CMN. During the drought period we also assessed the water relations of FM to determine if bioirrigation mediated through a CMN can support the water relations of FM.


Application of deuterium-enriched water to the moist bottom layer of the microcosms demonstrated the capability of PP to hydraulically lift water to the drier topsoil through an insulation layer of coarse gravel. Only FM plants that were connected to PP via a CMN were able to utilize HL water. As a consequence, FM bioirrigated by PP in the presence of a CMN was able to maintain its water relations during drought conditions and showed higher rates of survival than FM plants in monoculture.


Connecting the rhizosphere of two intercropping partners with a CMN can improve the water relations of shallow-rooted crops by bioirrigation. This finding has great potential for reducing drought induced crop yield loss in arid and semi-arid tropics.


AM fungi Bioirrigation Drought Finger millet Intercropping PGPR Pigeon pea Water relations 



This research work was funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) under the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology (The BIOFI project). We are thankful to Dr. M. N. Thimmegowda, All India Coordinated Research Project on Small Millets, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru India, for providing the PP and FM seeds. Dr. D. J. Bagyaraj, Centre for Natural Biological Resources and Community Development (CNBRCD), Bengaluru, India) for providing AMF culture for research work at University of Basel, Switzerland.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Sciences – BotanyUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland

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