Bio-physics of the soil-root interface

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Unlisted


Main objective: To explore and model the physical and biological architecture of soils and the spatio-temporal interactions between soil-inhabiting organisms (including plants), molecules and particles.

Objective: To understand the physical environmental effects on interactions between soil, plants and micro-organisms

Key hypothesis: The physical environment in the rhizosphere can be manipulated to promote beneficial microbial activity and minimize yield losses

This project explores two important aspects of soil-plant interactions which are coupled: First the impact of the multi-stress physical environment in the rhizosphere on whole-plant growth will be determined. Specifically, research will be done on the interaction between water stress and mechanical impedance and plant growth in soils of different structure, mineralogy and management history. Secondly we will explore how root activity changes the soil environment. The effect of root activity on the relative magnitude of different physical stresses will be measured at a given soil water status. The extent to which changes in soil structure due to root activity affect the hydraulic and mechanical properties of soil will also me assessed. The project exploits the range of expertise within the Centre for Soils and Ecosystem Function, at Rothamsted to examine the effects of physical stress to roots on nutrient acquisition and cycling and also to understand the effects changes in soil structure at a larger scale.
The research in this project will provide novel data to predict the effects of soil management and type on physical stresses to plant growth, particularity as a result of soil drying. Access to the long term experiments at Rothamsted and soils of different texture and organic matter content provide an opportunity to approach this problem systematically. We will collaborate with plant scientists within Rothamsted and elsewhere to elucidate whole-plant physiological responses to soil conditions.


10 25 50
Description We explored how the multi-stress environment in the rhizosphere affected whole-plant growth. Specifically we explored the interaction between water stress and mechanical impedance on plant growth in soils of different structure, mineralogy and management history. We found that mechanical impedance to root growth occurs in relatively well-watered soils. Thus the initial effects of soil drying are most likely to be due increased soil strength. In the UK, it is likely that increased soil strength due to poor soil management or soil drying is one of the main factors limiting crop yields. We developed laboratory systems to test the effect of strong soil on whole-plant growth.
Exploitation Route This has been continued in the 20:20 Wheat project at Rothamsted
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description We have used our findings to develop laboratory test environments that are relevant to the field situation. These were used in the 20:20 Wheat and are currently being used in Designing Future Wheat.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic