Estimation of the hydraulic conductivities of lupine roots by inverse modelling of high-resolution measurements of root water uptake

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Background and Aims Radial and axial hydraulic conductivities are key parameters for proper understanding and modelling of root water uptake. Despite their importance, there is limited experimental information on how the radial and axial hydraulic conductivities vary along roots growing in soil. Here, a new approach was introduced to estimate inversely the profile of hydraulic conductivities along the roots of transpiring plants growing in soil.

Methods A three-dimensional model of root water uptake was used to reproduce the measured profile of root water uptake along roots of lupine plant grown in soil. The profile of fluxes was measured using a neutron radiography technique combined with injection of deuterated water as tracer. The aim was to estimate inversely the profiles of the radial and axial hydraulic conductivities along the roots.

Key Results The profile of hydraulic conductivities along the taproot and the lateral roots of lupines was calculated using three flexible scenarios. For all scenarios, it was found that the radial hydraulic conductivity increases towards the root tips, while the axial conductivity decreases. Additionally, it was found that in soil with uniform water content: (1) lateral roots were the main location of root water uptake; (2) water uptake by laterals decreased towards the root tips due to the dissipation of water potential along the root; and (3) water uptake by the taproot was higher in the distal segments and was negligible in the proximal parts, which had a low radial conductivity.

Conclusions The proposed approach allows the estimation of the root hydraulic properties of plants growing in soil. This information can be used in an advanced model of water uptake to predict the water uptake of different root types or different root architectures under varying soil conditions.

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