Increased water retention in the rhizosphere allows for high phosphatase activity in drying soil

  • Maire HolzEmail author
  • Mohsen Zarebanadkouki
  • Andrea Carminati
  • Jan Hovind
  • Anders Kaestner
  • Marie Spohn
Regular Article


Background and aims

Soil drying negatively impacts several rhizosphere processes, but plant roots are capable of alleviating changes in rhizosphere water content by releasing mucilage. We propose that enhanced water retention in the rhizosphere due to mucilage and microbial extracellular polysaccharides allows for fast diffusion of enzymes and substrates, and thus high enzyme activity in the vicinity of roots.


To assess the effect of diffusion on enzyme activity, the relation between phosphatase activity and volumetric soil water content (VWC) was quantified in sterile soil. Then, barley plants were grown in rhizoboxes and subjected to a drying cycle, while VWC and phosphatase activity were monitored by neutron radiography and soil zymography.


The relation between phosphatase activity and VWC was well described by a diffusion model (R2 = 0.64), demonstrating the importance of diffusion for enzyme activity. This finding was confirmed in the experiment with plants where phosphatase activity strongly decreased upon soil drying. Enzyme activity decreased less in the rhizosphere than in the bulk soil: the ratio between phosphatase activity in the rhizosphere and bulk soil was 10 when the soil was close to saturation and 63 when the soil contained 5% water. The relationship between phosphatase activity and local soil WC were well fitted by the diffusion model (rhizosphere: R2 = 0.54, bulk: R2 = 0.63), emphasizing the effect of diffusion on soil enzyme activity.


Our results indicate that soil VWC has a significant effect on soil enzyme activity by increasing diffusion of enzymes and substrate. The higher retention of water in the rhizosphere maintains high enzyme activity around roots in drying soils, which might be beneficial for plant nutrient acquisition.


Soil water Soil drying Plant roots Rhizosphere Phosphatase activity Soil zymography Neutron radiography Enzyme diffusion Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) 



We thank Bea Burak and Ian Dodd for providing the seeds for the experiments and Joscha Becker for advice concerning the statistical analysis. MH thanks Bahar S. Razavi for introducing her to the zymography method. The authors acknowledge the German Research Foundation for granting the projects CA 921/3-1, KU 1184/33-1 and SP1389/6-1, and the ev. Studienwerk Villigst for granting a stipend for MH.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4234_MOESM1_ESM.docx (438 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 437 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maire Holz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mohsen Zarebanadkouki
    • 2
  • Andrea Carminati
    • 2
  • Jan Hovind
    • 3
  • Anders Kaestner
    • 3
  • Marie Spohn
    • 4
  1. 1.Group of Isotope Biogeochemistry and Gas FluxesLeibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) e.VMünchebergGermany
  2. 2.Division of Soil Physics, Bayreuth Center of Ecology and Environmental Research (BayCEER)University of BayreuthBayreuthGermany
  3. 3.Laboratory for Neutron Scattering and ImagingPaul Scherrer InstituteVilligenSwitzerland
  4. 4.Division of Soil Biogeochemistry, Bayreuth Center of Ecology and Environmental Research (BayCEER)University of BayreuthBayreuthGermany

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