Abstract

The rhizosphere has a controlling role in the flow of water and nutrients from soil to plant roots; however, its hydraulic properties are not well understood. As roots grow, they change the pore size distribution of the surrounding soil. Roots release polymeric substances such as mucilage into their rhizosphere. Microorganisms living in the rhizosphere feed on these organic materials and release other polymeric substances into the rhizosphere. The presence of these organic materials might affect the water retention properties and the hydraulic conductivity of the rhizosphere soil during drying and rewetting. We used neutron radiography to monitor the dynamics of water distribution in the rhizosphere of lupin (Lupinus albus L.) plants during a period of drying and rewetting. The rhizosphere was shown to have a higher water content than the bulk soil during the drying period but a lower one during the subsequent rewetting. We evaluated the wettability of the bulk soil and the rhizosphere soil by measuring the contact angle of water in the soil. We found significantly higher contact angles for the rhizosphere soil than the bulk soil after drying, which indicates slight water repellency in the rhizosphere. This explains the lower soil water content in the rhizosphere than the bulk soil after rewetting. Our results suggest that the water holding capacity of the rhizosphere is dynamic and might shift toward higher or lower values than those of the surrounding bulk soil, not affected by roots, depending on the history of drying and rewetting cycles.

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