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Root water uptake and profile soil water as affected by vertical root distribution

Yu, Gui-Rui, Zhuang, Jie, Nakayama, Keiichi, Jin, Yan
Plant ecology 2007 v.189 no.1 pp. 15-30
Zea mays, agroecosystems, corn, drought, rooting, roots, sap flow, soil depth, soil profiles, soil water, soil water balance, water flow, water shortages, water uptake
Water uptake by plant roots is a main process controlling water balance in field profiles and vital for agro-ecosystem management. Based on the sap flow measurements for maize plants (Zea mays L.) in a field under natural wet- and dry-soil conditions, we studied the effect of vertical root distribution on root water uptake and the resulted changes of profile soil water. The observations indicate that depth of the most densely rooted soil layer was more important than the maximum rooting depth for increasing the ability of plants to cope with the shortage of water. Occurrence of the most densely rooted layer at or below 30-cm soil depth was very conducive to maintaining plant water supply under the dry-soil conditions. In the soil layers colonized most densely by roots, daytime effective soil water saturation (S e) always dropped dramatically due to the high-efficient local water depletion. Restriction of the rooting depth markedly increased the difference of S e between the individual soil layers particularly under the dry-soil conditions due likely to the physical non-equilibrium of water flow between the layers. This study highlights the importance of root distribution and pattern in regulating soil water use and thereby improving endurance of plants to seasonal droughts for sustainable agricultural productivity.