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Detecting Soil Water Redistribution by Plant Roots Using Stable Water Isotopes


Soil water resources may be scarce and their precise location and dynamics strongly influence plant transpiration and yield. The root systems play an important role in soil water redistribution which may impact plant water balance, nutrient mobilization and competition for nutrients. However, there is still an ongoing debate about the absolute volume of water hydraulically redistributed by roots.

In a paper recently published in the Vadose Zone Journal, researchers designed a rhizobox experiment where water movement could be monitored using water stable isotopes in order to accurately locate and quantify the volume implied in the process of root redistribution.

The team found out that this volume was far from being negligible, representing up to 20% of the daily plant transpiration. The result was derived from stable water isotope composition change over time combined with a physical model of the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum while traditional water probe could not spot such transfer.

The parametrized model can now be used to assess how important these fluxes are for the plant water status and soil water stress over the full crop cycle or how particular combinations of species could benefit from each other in an intercropping system.


Read the full open access paper in VZJ.