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Research article2017Peer reviewedOpen access

Root Tip Shape Governs Root Elongation Rate under Increased Soil Strength

Colombi, Tino; Kirchgessner, Norbert; Walter, Achim; Keller, Thomas


Increased soil strength due to soil compaction or soil drying is a major limitation to root growth and crop productivity. Roots need to exert higher penetration force, resulting in increased penetration stress when elongating in soils of greater strength. This study aimed to quantify how the genotypic diversity of root tip geometry and root diameter influences root elongation under different levels of soil strength and to determine the extent to which roots adjust to increased soil strength. Fourteen wheat (Triticum aestivum) varieties were grown in soil columns packed to three bulk densities representing low, moderate, and high soil strength. Under moderate and high soil strength, smaller root tip radius-to-length ratio was correlated with higher genotypic root elongation rate, whereas root diameter was not related to genotypic root elongation. Based on cavity expansion theory, it was found that smaller root tip radius-to-length ratio reduced penetration stress, thus enabling higher root elongation rates in soils with greater strength. Furthermore, it was observed that roots could only partially adjust to increased soil strength. Root thickening was bounded by a maximum diameter, and root tips did not become more acute in response to increased soil strength. The obtained results demonstrated that root tip geometry is a pivotal trait governing root penetration stress and root elongation rate in soils of greater strength. Hence, root tip shape needs to be taken into account when selecting for crop varieties that may tolerate high soil strength.

Published in

Plant Physiology
2017, Volume: 174, number: 4, pages: 2289-2301

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Soil Science

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