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Open Access Methodology

Rhizo-lysimetry: facilities for the simultaneous study of root behaviour and resource use by agricultural crop and pasture systems

Philip L Eberbach1*, Jeffrey Hoffmann12, Sergio J Moroni1, Leonard J Wade1 and Leslie A Weston1

Author Affiliations

1 EH Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Boorooma St, 2678, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

2  , 2656, Ceranya, Lockhart, NSW, Australia

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Plant Methods 2013, 9:3  doi:10.1186/1746-4811-9-3

Published: 31 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Rhizo-lysimeters offer unique advantages for the study of plants and their interactions with soils. In this paper, an existing facility at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga Australia is described in detail and its potential to conduct both ecophysiological and ecohydrological research in the study of root interactions of agricultural crops and pastures is quantitatively assessed. This is of significance to future crop research efforts in southern Australia, in light of recent significant long-term drought events, as well as potential impacts of climate change as predicted for the region. The rhizo-lysimeter root research facility has recently been expanded to accommodate larger research projects over multiple years and cropping rotations.

Results

Lucerne, a widely-grown perennial pasture in southern Australia, developed an expansive root system to a depth of 0.9 m over a twelve month period. Its deeper roots particularly at 2.05 m continued to expand for the duration of the experiment. In succeeding experiments, canola, a commonly grown annual crop, developed a more extensive (approximately 300%) root system than wheat, but exhibited a slower rate of root elongation at rates of 7.47 x 10–3 m day–1 for canola and 1.04 x10–2 m day–1 for wheat. A time domain reflectometry (TDR) network was designed to accurately assess changes in soil water content, and could assess water content change to within 5% of the amount of water applied.

Conclusions

The rhizo-lysimetry system provided robust estimates of root growth and soil water change under conditions representative of a field setting. This is currently one of a very limited number of global research facilities able to perform experimentation under field conditions and is the largest root research experimental laboratory in the southern hemisphere.

Keywords:
Rhizo-lysimeter; Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR); Mini-rhizotron-root observation tube; Root growth; Lucerne; Canola; Wheat