Plant and Soil

, Volume 326, Issue 1–2, pp 493–510 | Cite as

Modelling diverse root density dynamics and deep nitrogen uptake—A simple approach

  • Anders Pedersen
  • Kefeng Zhang
  • Kristian Thorup-KristensenEmail author
  • Lars S. Jensen
Regular Article


We present a 2-D model for simulation of root density and plant nitrogen (N) uptake for crops grown in agricultural systems, based on a modification of the root density equation originally proposed by Gerwitz and Page in J Appl Ecol 11:773–781, (1974). A root system form parameter was introduced to describe the distribution of root length vertically and horizontally in the soil profile. The form parameter can vary from 0 where root density is evenly distributed through the soil profile, to 8 where practically all roots are found near the surface. The root model has other components describing root features, such as specific root length and plant N uptake kinetics. The same approach is used to distribute root length horizontally, allowing simulation of root growth and plant N uptake in row crops. The rooting depth penetration rate and depth distribution of root density were found to be the most important parameters controlling crop N uptake from deeper soil layers. The validity of the root distribution model was tested with field data for white cabbage, red beet, and leek. The model was able to simulate very different root distributions, but it was not able to simulate increasing root density with depth as seen in the experimental results for white cabbage. The model was able to simulate N depletion in different soil layers in two field studies. One included vegetable crops with very different rooting depths and the other compared effects of spring wheat and winter wheat. In both experiments variation in spring soil N availability and depth distribution was varied by the use of cover crops. This shows the model sensitivity to the form parameter value and the ability of the model to reproduce N depletion in soil layers. This work shows that the relatively simple root model developed, driven by degree days and simulated crop growth, can be used to simulate crop soil N uptake and depletion appropriately in low N input crop production systems, with a requirement of few measured parameters.


EU_rotateN Vegetable crops Root depth Root distribution Root model Wheat 



Root sub-module was developed in the European Community Network project: Development of a model-based decision support system to optimise nitrogen use in horticultural crop rotations across Europe (EU-Rotate_N) under Framework 5. For more information about the plant soil model and access to downloads see:

The authors gratefully acknowledge additional funding for this work from the European Community under the Sixth Framework Programme, for the Integrated Project QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD, FP6-FOOD-CT-2003-9 506358 and from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who through project HH3509SFV.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anders Pedersen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kefeng Zhang
    • 3
  • Kristian Thorup-Kristensen
    • 2
    Email author
  • Lars S. Jensen
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Life Sciences, Department of Agricultural Sciences, Plant and Soil ScienceUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksberg C.Denmark
  2. 2.Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Department of HorticultureUniversity of AarhusAarslevDenmark
  3. 3.Warwick HRIThe University of WarwickWellesbourneUK

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