Quantifying coupled deformation and water flow in the rhizosphere using X-ray microtomography and numerical simulations
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Background and aims
The rhizosphere, the soil immediately surrounding roots, provides a critical bridge for water and nutrient uptake. The rhizosphere is influenced by various forms of root–soil interactions of which mechanical deformation due to root growth and its effects on the hydraulics of the rhizosphere are the least studied. In this work, we focus on developing new experimental and numerical tools to assess these changes.
This study combines X-ray micro-tomography (XMT) with coupled numerical simulation of fluid and soil deformation in the rhizosphere. The study provides a new set of tools to mechanistically investigate root-induced rhizosphere compaction and its effect on root water uptake. The numerical simulator was tested on highly deformable soil to document its ability to handle a large degree of strain.
Our experimental results indicate that measured rhizosphere compaction by roots via localized soil compaction increased the simulated water flow to the roots by 27 % as compared to an uncompacted fine-textured soil of low bulk density characteristic of seed beds or forest topsoils. This increased water flow primarily occurred due to local deformation of the soil aggregates as seen in the XMT images, which increased hydraulic conductivity of the soil. Further simulated root growth and deformation beyond that observed in the XMT images led to water uptake enhancement of ~50 % beyond that due to root diameter increase alone and demonstrated the positive benefits of root compaction in low density soils.
The development of numerical models to quantify the coupling of root driven compaction and fluid flow provides new tools to improve the understanding of plant water uptake, nutrient availability and agricultural efficiency. This study demonstrated that plants, particularly during early growth in highly deformable low density soils, are involved in active mechanical management of their surroundings. These modeling approaches may now be used to quantify compaction and root growth impacts in a wide range of soils.
KeywordsRhizosphere Growth Mechanical deformation Uptake X-ray microtomography
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. DEB-0816726 and DEB-0817073. The Advanced Light Source is supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231. Additional support for SWT was provided by the Centre for Ecohydrology at the University of Western Australia. The authors would like to thank Ajay Mandava and Emma Regentova for providing preliminary segmentations of the geometries of the rhizosphere and M. Menon for contributions toward the direction of this research. The authors also greatly appreciate the comments and suggestions of two anonymous reviewers whose insight and questions greatly improved the manuscript.
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