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Upscaling from rhizosphere to whole root system: Modelling the effects of phospholipid surfactants on water and nutrient uptake

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 15:06 authored by Dunbabin, VM, McDermott, S, Bengough, AG
While the rhizosphere presents a different chemical, physical and biological environment to bulk soil, most experimental and modelling investigations of plant growth and productivity are based on bulk soil parameters. In this study, water and nutrient acquisition by wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) roots was investigated using rhizosphere- and root-system-scale modelling. The physical and chemical properties of rhizosphere soil could be influenced by phospholipid surfactants in the root mucilage. Two models were compared: a 2-dimensional (2D) Finite Element Method rhizosphere model, and a 3-dimensional (3D) root architecture model, ROOTMAP. ROOTMAP was parameterised to reproduce the results of the detailed 2D model, and was modified to include a rhizosphere soil volume. Lecithin (a phospholipid surfactant) could be exuded into the rhizosphere soil volume, decreasing soil water content and hydraulic conductivity at any given soil water potential, and decreasing phosphate adsorption to soil particles. The rhizosphere-scale modelling (5 x 5 mm 2 soil area, 10 mm root length, uptake over 12 h) predicted a reduction in water uptake (up to 16% at 30 kPa) and an increase in phosphate uptake (up to 4%) with lecithin exudation into the rhizosphere, but little effect on nitrate uptake, with only a small reduction in dry soil (1.6% at 200 kPa). The 3D root model reproduced the water (y = 1.013x, R 2 = 0.996), nitrate (y = 1x, R 2 = 1) and phosphate (y = 0.978x, R 2 = 0.998) uptake predictions of the rhizosphere model, providing confidence that a whole root system model could reproduce the dynamics simulated by a Finite Element Method rhizosphere model. The 3D root architecture model was then used to scale-up the rhizosphere dynamics, simulating the effect of lecithin exudation on water, nitrate and phosphate acquisition by a wheat root system, growing over 41 d. When applied to growing and responsive roots, lecithin exudation increased P acquisition by up to 13% in nutrient-rich, and 49% in relatively nutrient-poor soil. A comparison of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and lupin (Lupinus angustifolius L.) root architectures, suggested an interaction between the P acquisition benefit of rhizosphere lecithin and root architecture, with the more highly-branched wheat root structure acquiring relatively more P in the presence of lecithin than the sparsely-branched lupin root system. © Springer 2006.


Grains Research & Development Corporation


Publication title

Plant and Soil










Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


Springer-Verlag Dordrecht

Place of publication


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Socio-economic Objectives

Grain legumes

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