Nonequilibrium water dynamics in the rhizosphere: How mucilage affects water flow in soils

Eva Kroener, Mohsen Zarebanadkouki, Anders Kaestner, Andrea Carminati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations

Abstract

The flow of water from soil to plant roots is controlled by the properties of the narrow region of soil close to the roots, the rhizosphere. In particular, the hydraulic properties of the rhizosphere are altered by mucilage, a polymeric gel exuded by the roots. In this paper we present experimental results and a conceptual model of water flow in unsaturated soils mixed with mucilage. A central hypothesis of the model is that the different drying/wetting rate of mucilage compared to the bulk soil results in nonequilibrium relations between water content and water potential in the rhizosphere. We coupled this nonequilibrium relation with the Richards equation and obtained a constitutive equation for water flow in soil and mucilage. To test the model assumptions, we measured the water retention curve and the saturated hydraulic conductivity of sandy soil mixed with mucilage from chia seeds. Additionally, we used neutron radiography to image water content in a layer of soil mixed with mucilage during drying and wetting cycles. The radiographs demonstrated the occurrence of nonequilibrium water dynamics in the soil-mucilage mixture. The experiments were simulated by numerically solving the nonequilibrium model. Our study provides conceptual and experimental evidences that mucilage has a strong impact on soil water dynamics. During drying, mucilage maintains a greater soil water content for an extended time, while during irrigation it delays the soil rewetting. We postulate that mucilage exudation by roots attenuates plant water stress by modulating water content dynamics in the rhizosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6479-6495
Number of pages17
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume50
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes

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