Exploring the interacting effect of soil texture and bulk density on root system development in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.)

Saoirse R. Tracy, Colin R. Black, Jeremy A. Roberts & Sacha J. Mooney

Knowledge of the responses of root systems in horizoned heterogeneous soil is vital to optimise uptake of water and nutrients to maximise crop productivity. We explored the interacting effects of soil bulk density and texture on the development of root systems in tomato.

Two main techniques were employed, X-ray micro-Computed Tomography (μCT), to provide non-destructive, three-dimensional (3D) images of root systems in situ and destructive root washing followed by WinRHIZO® scanning. Solanum lycopersicum L. cv. Ailsa Craig plants were grown in soil columns for 10 days to measure the effect of soil compaction on selected root traits. Treatments included bulk density (1.2–1.6 Mg m−3), soil texture (loamy sand and clay loam) and the effects of layering.

The effect of bulk density on root growth was greatest 3 days after transplanting (DAT) in both soil types. The effect of soil texture was not apparent at this stage, but was significant at 10 DAT for most root and shoot variables. The influence of bulk density differed between soil types as increasing compaction promoted plant growth in clay loam but retarded root growth in loamy sand.

We observed that at 3 DAT root growth is primarily influenced by bulk density but by 10 DAT a switch in the processes regulating root growth occurs and the texture of the soil becomes very influential. Future investigations of root growth must consider soil physical properties individually and at specific time points, as their importance changes as the root system becomes established. Here we have demonstrated both positive and negative impacts across a wide range of bulk density treatments in different soil textures on root growth. This illustrates the importance of understanding the complex nature of root–soil interactions, especially for agricultural practices such as seedbed preparation.

Environmental and Experimental Botany 91, 38-47

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