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Critical soil conditions for oxygen stress to plant roots: Substituting the Feddes-function by a process-based model

Bartholomeus, Ruud P., Witte, Jan-Philip M., van Bodegom, Peter M., van Dam, Jos C., Aerts, Rien
Journal of hydrology 2008 v.360 no.1-4 pp. 147-165
plants, rhizosphere, soil air, oxygen, plant stress, soil pore system, porosity, roots, soil physical properties, soil temperature, soil organic matter, soil depth, mathematical models, simulation models, soil texture
Effects of insufficient soil aeration on the functioning of plants form an important field of research. A well-known and frequently used utility to express oxygen stress experienced by plants is the Feddes-function. This function reduces root water uptake linearly between two constant pressure heads, representing threshold values for minimum and maximum oxygen deficiency. However, the correctness of this expression has never been evaluated and constant critical values for oxygen stress are likely to be inappropriate. On theoretical grounds it is expected that oxygen stress depends on various abiotic and biotic factors. In this paper, we propose a fundamentally different approach to assess oxygen stress: we built a plant physiological and soil physical process-based model to calculate the minimum gas filled porosity of the soil ([Greek Phi symbol] gas_min) at which oxygen stress occurs. First, we calculated the minimum oxygen concentration in the gas phase of the soil needed to sustain the roots through (micro-scale) diffusion with just enough oxygen to respire. Subsequently, [Greek Phi symbol] gas_min that corresponds to this minimum oxygen concentration was calculated from diffusion from the atmosphere through the soil (macro-scale). We analyzed the validity of constant critical values to represent oxygen stress in terms of [Greek Phi symbol] gas_min, based on model simulations in which we distinguished different soil types and in which we varied temperature, organic matter content, soil depth and plant characteristics. Furthermore, in order to compare our model results with the Feddes-function, we linked root oxygen stress to root water uptake (through the sink term variable F, which is the ratio of actual and potential uptake). The simulations showed that [Greek Phi symbol] gas_min is especially sensitive to soil temperature, plant characteristics (root dry weight and maintenance respiration coefficient) and soil depth but hardly to soil organic matter content. Moreover, [Greek Phi symbol] gas_min varied considerably between soil types and was larger in sandy soils than in clayey soils. We demonstrated that F of the Feddes-function indeed decreases approximately linearly, but that actual oxygen stress already starts at drier conditions than according to the Feddes-function. How much drier is depended on the factors indicated above. Thus, the Feddes-function might cause large errors in the prediction of transpiration reduction and growth reduction through oxygen stress. We made our method easily accessible to others by implementing it in SWAP, a user-friendly soil water model that is coupled to plant growth. Since constant values for [Greek Phi symbol] gas_min in plant and hydrological modeling appeared to be inappropriate, an integrated approach, including both physiological and physical processes, should be used instead. Therefore, we advocate using our method in all situations where oxygen stress could occur.