University Of Tasmania

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Simulating the interaction between plant roots, soil water and nutrient flows, and barriers and objects in soil using ROOTMAP

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 05:28 authored by Dunbabin, VM, Airey, M, Diggle, AJ, Renton, M, Rengel, Z, Armstrong, R, Chen, Y, Siddique, KHM

Plant productivity is directly affected by the capacity of the root system to forage for soil resources. An enhanced understanding of root-soil interactions provides the potential to improve crop performance in specific soil environments. Interactions between roots and soil are, however, complex. The root-soil environment is heterogeneous and difficult to visualise and measure, root architecture and root growth responses are complex and dynamic, and processes from the ionic and rhizosphere scale right up to the whole crop and even catchment scale are involved. For these reasons, pot experiments are used in root studies to simplify the environment, target specific interactions and aid with visualisation and measurement. Significant challenges exist, however, in relating pot studies to the field, requiring upscaling from a spatially confined and artificially contrived environment to the reality of a more complex cropping environment. Simulation models provide an opportunity to upscale complex root-soil interactions from the pot to the field, but to do so they must represent the way that plant roots explore a restricted pot environment.

In this study ROOTMAP, a 3D functional-structural model of root growth and resource capture, was modified to enable the simulation of barriers in soil, and the interaction of plant roots and soil water and nutrients with those barriers. This barrier-modelling utilises custom coding, with the support of Boost.Geometry (Generic Geometry Library) where appropriate. The barrier approach defines the 3D shape and location of any number of what are termed Volume Objects. Roots and soil can be: wholly contained within one Volume Object such as in the case of roots growing in a pot; a plant can have roots distributed between two Volume Objects such as in a split-pot experiment; and they can be wholly outside one or more Volume Objects for simulating the presence of rocks or other hard objects in soil. Volume Objects can be wholly impermeable, such as; pot walls that contain roots within them, or impermeable rocks or hardpan layers that roots grow around. Volume Objects can also have varying degrees of permeability for representing layers or areas in soil that have varying degrees of hardness and varying root penetrability.

In this initial version of the code, barriers or objects can be represented as rectangular prisms, giving flat barrier layers or square or rectangular objects such as root/rhizo boxes, or as cylinders, representing curved pots or smooth curved objects in soil. The barrier modelling code calculates the deflection of a root tip when it intersects a boundary, representing the way that plant roots grow around and along object surfaces. It also calculates the effect of semi-permeable objects in soil on root growth into and around those objects. Water and nutrients are distributed through the soil environment by use of a variable 3D grid of sub-volumes or cells. The water and nutrient routines then search for the presence of a barrier or wall (Volume Object) intersecting each cell and the volume of the cell contained inside/outside the barrier is calculated. This combined with the permeability of the barrier determines the water and nutrient transfer within the cell. The result is a model which can simulate the root, water and nutrient dynamics in a bounded-environment. This provides an opportunity to represent root architectural development and root-soil interactions in pots and rhizo-boxes, and investigate how these studies relate to root growth and resource capture in un-bounded field soil.


Grains Research & Development Corporation


Publication title

Proceedings of the 19th International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM2011)


F Chan, D Marinova and RS Anderssen






Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand

Place of publication

Perth WA

Event title

19th International Congress on Modelling and Simulation

Event Venue

Perth Western Australia

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Rights statement

Copyright 2011 The Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand Inc.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

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