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This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 74 No. 3, p. 500-503
    Received: July 16, 1981

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Quantitative Separation of Roots from Compacted Soil Profiles by the Hydropneumatic Elutriation System1

  1. A. J. M. Smucker,
  2. S. L. McBurney and
  3. A. K. Srivastava2



Knowledge of plant root responses to both favorable and unfavorable soil conditions is fundamental to our understanding of the complex root soil interface. One of the greatest hindrances to the frequent measurements of the morphological and physiological responses of plant roots to soil environmental conditions has been the absence of an inexpensive method for quantitatively separating the soil from roots and other biological materials.

The objectives of this study were to develop an inexpensive and quantitative method for separating roots from soils of field and greenhouse experiments and to determine the influence of soil type, pretreatment and plant type on the efficiency of separation.

A mechanized system which separated roots from soil materials was constructed which combines the kinetic energy of pressurized spray jets and the low energy of air flotation. Root elutriation systems were fabricated from commercially available components at a cost of less than $25 per unit excluding labor. A manifold of these units was assembled to increase operator efficiency. Quantitative separation of roots is achieved by a closed system of mechanical separations using water and air to isolate and deposit roots on a submerged sieve. Washing times range from 3 to 10 min and is a function of soil texture, plant species, concentration of the dispersing agent and soaking time. Utilizing a manifold of nine separation units and two personnel, an average of 60 samples could be separated per hour. Water consumption per unit ranges from 2.1 to 3.4 liters per minute. This method, in combination with a powered soil sampler, appears to provide a rapid, quantitative and inexpensive approach for measuring plant root responses to soil biological, chemical, and physical stresses.

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