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Vadose Zone Journal Abstract - Special Section: Soil as Complex Systems

Water for Carbon, Carbon for Water

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This article in VZJ

  1. Vol. 15 No. 2
    Received: Apr 22, 2015
    Accepted: Sept 23, 2015
    Published: February 8, 2016

    * Corresponding author(s): acarmin@gwdg.de
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  1. Andrea Carminati a,
  2. Eva Kroenera,
  3. Mutez A. Ahmedab,
  4. Mohsen Zarebanadkoukia,
  5. Maire Holza and
  6. Teamrat Ghezzeheic
  1. a Division of Soil Hydrology, Georg-August University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
    b Dep. of Agricultural Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Khartoum, Khartoum, Sudan
    c Life and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Merced, Merced, CA
Core Ideas:
  • Mucilage exuded by roots modifies the hydraulic properties of the rhizosphere.
  • In turn, the rhizosphere hydraulic properties affect transpiration and photosynthesis.
  • These water–carbon feedbacks in the rhizosphere help plant performance in dry soils.


Plant roots exude approximately 10% of the carbon assimilated through photosynthesis into the soil, a process referred to as rhizodeposition. Here, we show that the mucilaginous fraction of the rhizodeposits, referred to as mucilage, plays a crucial role on soil–plant water relation and it has the potential to increase plant drought tolerance. Mucilage is a gel that can absorb large volumes of water, altering the physical properties of the rhizosphere and maintaining the rhizosphere wet and conductive when the soil dries. It is hypothesized that mucilage acts as a hydraulic bridge between roots and the soil, facilitating root water uptake and maintaining transpiration in dry soils. By employing a simplified model of root water uptake coupled with mucilage dynamics, we found that in a sandy soil the benefit of mucilage in maintaining root water uptake commenced to manifest when the soil matric potential dropped below approximately −0.8 MPa. This critical matric potential varied with transpiration rate, root length, and exudation rate. Below the critical potential, mucilage maintained photosynthesis and resulted in a net gain of carbon. In summary, rhizodeposition modifies the physical soil environment and has an impact on transpiration and photosynthesis. In other words: water for carbon, but also carbon for water.

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