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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

Feedbacks between soil penetration resistance, root architecture and water uptake limit water accessibility and crop growth - A vicious circle

Colombi, Tino; Torres, Lorena Chagas; Walter, Achim; Keller, Thomas


Water is the most limiting resource for global crop production. The projected increase of dry spells due to climate change will further increase the problem of water limited crop yields. Besides low water abundance and availability, water limitations also occur due to restricted water accessibility. Soil penetration resistance, which is largely influenced by soil moisture, is the major soil property regulating root elongation and water accessibility. Until now the interactions between soil penetration resistance, root system properties, water uptake and crop productivity are rarely investigated. In the current study we quantified how interactive effects between soil penetration resistance, root architecture and water uptake affect water accessibility and crop productivity in the field. Maize was grown on compacted and uncompacted soil that was either tilled or remained untilled after compaction, which resulted in four treatments with different topsoil penetration resistance. Higher topsoil penetration resistance caused root systems to be shallower. This resulted in increased water uptake from the topsoil and hence topsoil drying, which further increased the penetration resistance in the uppermost soil layer. As a consequence of this feedback, root growth into deeper soil layers, where water would have been available, was reduced and plant growth decreased. Our results demonstrate that soil penetration resistance, root architecture and water uptake are closely interrelated and thereby determine the potential of plants to access soil water pools. Hence, these interactions and their feedbacks on water accessibility and crop productivity have to be accounted for when developing strategies to alleviate water limitations in cropping systems. (C) 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Maize root system; Soil-plant interactions; Soil penetration resistance; Water limitations; Water accessibility; Plant phenotyping

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2018, Volume: 626, pages: 1026-1035

    SLU Authors

    • Sustainable Development Goals

      SDG13 Climate action

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Soil Science

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