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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Artificial macropores attract crop roots and enhance plant productivity on compacted soils

Colombi, Tino; Braun, Serge; Keller, Thomas; Walter, Achim


The structure of compacted soils is characterised by decreased (macro-)porosity, which leads to increased mechanical impedance and decreased fluid transport rates, resulting in reduced root growth and crop productivity. Particularly in soils with high mechanical impedance, macropores can be used by roots as pathways of least resistance. This study investigated how different soil physical states relate to whole plant growth and whether roots grow towards spots with favourable soil physical conditions. Experiments were conducted under controlled and field conditions. Soybean (Glycine max L.), wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and maize (Zea mays L.) were grown on uncompacted soil, compacted soil and compacted soil with artificial macropores. The interactions between roots and artificial macropores were quantified using X-ray computed tomography. Active growth of roots towards artificial macropores was observed for all three species. Roots grew either into macropores (predominantly in maize) or crossed them (predominantly in wheat). The presence of artificial macropores in compacted soil enabled all three species to compensate for decreased early vigour at later developmental stages. These results show that roots sense their physical environment, enabling them to grow towards spots with favourable soil conditions. The different kinds of root-macropore interaction indicated that macropores serve as a path of least resistance and a source of oxygen, both resulting in increased crop productivity on compacted soils. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Root-soil interactions; Soil compaction; Soil functions; Soil physical fertility; X-ray computed tomography

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2017, Volume: 574, pages: 1283-1293

    SLU Authors

    • Colombi, Tino

      • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich)
    • UKÄ Subject classification

      Soil Science

      Publication Identifiers


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