Soil compaction: a review of past and present techniques for investigating effects on root growth

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

Soil compaction has been known to affect root growth for millennia. Root growth in natural soils is complex and soil compaction induces several stresses which may interact simultaneously, including increased soil strength, decreased aeration and reduced hydraulic conductivity. Yet, moderate soil compaction offers some benefits to growing roots by increasing root-soil contact so they can extract adequate resources. Until now, improving our understanding of the specific responses of roots to below-ground stimuli has been difficult. However, the advent of new technologies and practices, including X-ray computed tomography, to provide non-destructive, three-dimensional images of root systems throughout the plant’s lifecycle now allows the responses of roots encountering changes in their physical, chemical or biotic environment to be established directly and non-invasively. Previous destructive methods, such as root washing, were incapable of identifying and characterising fine root architectural characteristics as these are inextricably linked to the composition of the soil matrix. X-ray computed tomography coupled with genetic approaches will provide a more comprehensive appreciation of the effect of soil compaction on root growth, and the knowledge required to generate improvements in plant breeding programmes and crop husbandry.

Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 91 (9), 1528–1537

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