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Root to shoot ratios and belowground biomass distribution for Pacific Northwest dryland crops

J. D. Williams, D. K. McCool, C. L. Reardon, C. L. Douglas Jr., S. L. Albrecht, R. W. Rickman
Journal of soil and water conservation 2013 v.68 no.5 pp. 349-360
no-tillage, arid lands, Water Erosion Prediction Project, crop yield, Brassica napus, Pisum sativum, roots, long term experiments, peas, stems, data collection, Triticum aestivum, root shoot ratio, belowground biomass, Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation, canola, winter, conventional tillage, fallow, farming systems, rooting, soil sampling, winter wheat, spring, growth models, plows, spring wheat, soil profiles, water erosion, crops, Oregon
Roots, cereal crowns, and stems growing beneath the soil surface provide important resistance to soil erosion. Understanding the amount and distribution of this material in the soil profile could provide insight into resistance to soil erosion by water and improve the performance of soil erosion models, such as the revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE) and the water erosion prediction project (WEPP). Erosion models use built-in or external crop growth models to populate crop yield and live aboveground and associated belowground biomass databases. We examined two data sets from the dryland small grain production region in the Pacific Northwest of the United States to determine root:shoot ratios, the vertical distribution of root and attached belowground biomass, and incorporated residue from previously grown crops. Data were collected in 1993, 1994, 1995, and 2000 from short-term no-till and conventional tillage experiments conducted near Pendleton, Oregon, and Pullman, Washington, and in 1999 and 2000 from long-term experiments representative of farming practices near Pendleton, Oregon. The crops sampled in the short-term data set included soft white winter and spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.;WW and SW, respectively), spring peas (Pisum sativum L.; SP), and winter canola (Brassica napus L.;WC). Crops sampled in the long-term study included WW, SW, and SP. Data were collected at harvest in both data sets and during three phenologic stages in each of the crops in the short-term data set. Soil samples were collected to a depth of 60 cm (23.6 in) in the short-term and 30 cm (11.9 in) in the long-term experiments. In both sets of measurements, we found greater than 70% of root mass is in the top 10 cm (3.9 in) of the soil profile "with the exception of SP, which had 70% of root mass in the top 15 cm (5.9 in) of the soil profile. WC produced significantly more biomass near the soil surface than WW, SW, or SP. Root-to-shoot biomass ratios in mature wheat ranged from 0.13 to 0.17 in the top 30 cm (11.9 in) of the soil profile, substantially lower than values suggested for use in WEPP (0.25). In the long-term experiments, soil of the conventionally tilled continuous winter wheat (CWW) plots contained significantly greater biomass than soil of conventionally tilled winter wheat/fallow (CR) and no-till winter wheat/fallow (NT) treatments. There was no significant difference between CWW and conventionally tilled winter wheat/spring pea (WP); however, CWW returned more residue to the soil than WP because SP produced less residue and these residues were incorporated with a field cultivator rather than a moldboard plow. More accurate representation of root development, particularly in winter crops, could improve RUSLE and WEPP performance in the Pacific Northwest where winter conditions have proven difficult to model.