May 11, 2021
May 3, 2021
Analysis of the root system is important in ensuring sustainable crop production, reducing nutrient input and irrigation, and protecting soil carbon pools. Getting rapid and frequent images of what is happening underground can help people make timely decisions about agricultural practices to maintain plant health and ensure the judicious use of resources. Root analysis can reduce financial and resource investments to make farming more profitable and environmentally friendly.
[Updated: March 2021]
Root analysis is important not only to improve and increase food production but also for environment protection and fighting climate change.
In order to perform all their tasks, root systems have developed different morphology, topology, distribution, and architecture. Each root system is adapted for its longevity, region, and soil type.
The main disciplines using root analysis are concerned in some way with crop production, silviculture, and ecology. They are:
Agronomy: Root analysis helps in reducing abiotic and biotic stress in order to increase crop production. Anaylsis includes monitoring roots for efficient use of water and nutrients, plant health, and symbiosis. Root analysis is important for growers as well as agronomists.
New Methods of Agriculture: Building up soil fertility and biodiversity to improve crop productivity is integral to a popular new farming method: regenerative farming. Root analysis would play a vital role in this new approach.
Forestry: Though many foresters think climate change will affect forest productivity, few have adapted their practices accordingly. One problem has been the historic lack of information on root and rhizosphere functioning, as roots have remained the “hidden half” of forests due to a lack of non-destructive methods of root study. The new methods, especially minirhizotrons, can provide vital information on ecosystems and individual tree species.
Tree nurseries: It is now widely accepted that root volume, high fibrosity, and more lateral roots in tree seedlings are the best indicators of tree transplanting success and performance. Therefore, aboveground metrics are giving way to the use of root quality to select seedlings,in forest restoration programs. Root analysis has been a handy tool in this work.
Soil Science: The activity of roots influence soil, just as soil affects roots. Roots’ presence, respiration, activity, and exudates all create soil-root interactions that have been getting more attention from scientists in the past three decades.
Ecophysiology: Root ecophysiology, the study of internal and external factors on roots, is another area that has been getting the attention of scientists as of late. The functional, molecular, and physiological mechanisms of root systems and interactions with microbes and other roots are some of the new areas of interest.
Climatology: More carbon is added to the soil by roots than by litter deposition of the shoot system. Moreover, this carbon is likely to remain longer in the soil than the organic matter formed by shoot deposits. Root carbon is now recognised as a major carbon pool that needs to be protected and built up to fight climate change. So, root analysis is very important for scientists, international organisations, national governments, and local groups involved in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Hydrology: Scientists are following the relationship of root depth with soil water availability in natural systems. Root architecture depends on hydrology and will differ in places with drought compared to plants growing in wetlands, for example.
Sports: Many sports that need a well-maintained grass cover, such as football, golf, etc., need intensive irrigation. These sports are trying to optimize water use and rely on smart and precision root analysis tools to decide when and how to irrigate.
It is difficult to see how roots fare and function underground. By the time symptoms are visible above-ground, it may be too late to fix the problem. Root imaging provides an excellent solution to this problem.
Roots face several challenges in their search for resources:
Agriculturists use root analysis to get images of:
Forest scientists and managers use root analysis to understand the following:
Figure 2: Distribution of root density for different maturing crops, from Gregory 2006
In the past, the methods used to get a picture of the root system involved destructive methods such as coring or trenching. These techniques have the added disadvantage of being one-time observations. Current methods involve making 2D and 3D images of the roots systems, which are non-destructive, and can, therefore, take repeated pictures at the same spot. Root imaging can be done in real time, and as often as necessary depending on the objectives of the study.
Some of the common techniques that can be used in the field in situ are:
CID Bio-Science offers the CI-600 In-Situ Root Imager and CI-602 Narrow Gauge Root Imager, which are examples of the minirhizotron system. They provide high resolution digital images that track the development and functionality of the roots down to a depth of two meters.
Root analysis through imaging is a relatively new field technique. It was previously used only in laboratories for phenotyping roots and other studies on root systems. Its recent application in the field, especially in crop production – broad acre and orchards – is making agriculture more sustainable. It is suitable for emerging forms of cultivation such as Adaptive Farming and Precision Farming to cut costs and optimize resource use.
Science Writer, CID Bio-Science
Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Science, B.Sc Agriculture
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