Roots growing in soil encounter physical, chemical and biological environments that influence their rhizospheres and affect plant growth. Exudates from roots can stimulate or inhibit soil organisms that may release nutrients, infect the root, or modify plant growth via signals. These rhizosphere processes are poorly understood in field conditions.Scope and Aims
We characterize roots and their rhizospheres and rates of growth in units of distance and time so that interactions with soil organisms can be better understood in field conditions. We review: (1) distances between components of the soil, including dead roots remnant from previous plants, and the distances between new roots, their rhizospheres and soil components; (2) characteristic times (distance2/diffusivity) for solutes to travel distances between roots and responsive soil organisms; (3) rates of movement and growth of soil organisms; (4) rates of extension of roots, and how these relate to the rates of anatomical and biochemical ageing of root tissues and the development of the rhizosphere within the soil profile; and (5) numbers of micro-organisms in the rhizosphere and the dependence on the site of attachment to the growing tip. We consider temporal and spatial variation within the rhizosphere to understand the distribution of bacteria and fungi on roots in hard, unploughed soil, and the activities of organisms in the overlapping rhizospheres of living and dead roots clustered in gaps in most field soils.Conclusions
Rhizosphere distances, characteristic times for solute diffusion, and rates of root and organism growth must be considered to understand rhizosphere development. Many values used in our analysis were estimates. The paucity of reliable data underlines the rudimentary state of our knowledge of root–organism interactions in the field.