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Modelling root–soil interactions using three–dimensional models of root growth, architecture and function

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Abstract

Background

Three–dimensional root architectural models emerged in the late 1980s, providing an opportunity to conceptualise and investigate that all important part of plants that is typically hidden and difficult to measure and study. These models have progressed from representing pre–defined root architectural arrangements, to simulating root growth in response to heterogeneous soil environments. This was done through incorporating soil properties and more complete descriptions of plant function, moving into the realm of functional-structural plant modelling. Modelling studies are often designed to investigate the relationship between root architectural traits and root distribution in soil, and the spatio–temporal variability of resource supply. Modelling root systems presents an opportunity to investigate functional tradeoffs between foraging strategies (i.e. shallow vs deep rooting) for contrasting resources (immobile versus mobile resources), and their dependence on soil type, rainfall and other environmental conditions. The complexity of the interactions between root traits and environment emphasises the need for models in which traits and environmental conditions can be independently manipulated, unlike in the real world.

Scope

We provide an overview of the development of three–dimensional root architectural models from their origins, to their place today in the world of functional–structural plant modelling. The uses and capability of root architectural models to represent virtual plants and soil environment are addressed. We compare features of six current models, RootTyp, SimRoot, ROOTMAP, SPACSYS, R-SWMS, and RootBox, and discuss the future development of functional-structural root architectural modelling.

Conclusion

Functional-structural root architectural models are being used to investigate numerous root–soil interactions, over a range of spatial scales. They are not only providing insights into the relationships between architecture, morphology and functional efficiency, but are also developing into tools that aid in the design of agricultural management schemes and in the selection of root traits for improving plant performance in specific environments.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Dr Ian Bingham and Dr Davide Tarsitano SRUC, UK, for providing additional information on the SPACSYS model, and Prof Jonathan Lynch, Penn State University for providing additional information on the SimRoot model. This research was supported by the Australian Research Council and by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (Grant No.: V220-N13). Andrea Schnepf is an Elise-Richter research fellow. Daniel Leitner is recipient of an APART-fellowship of the Austrian Academy of Sciences at the Computational Science Center, University of Vienna.

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Dunbabin, V.M., Postma, J.A., Schnepf, A. et al. Modelling root–soil interactions using three–dimensional models of root growth, architecture and function. Plant Soil 372, 93–124 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-013-1769-y

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