Articles | Volume 18, issue 10
Research article
27 Oct 2014
Research article |  | 27 Oct 2014

Effect of parameter choice in root water uptake models – the arrangement of root hydraulic properties within the root architecture affects dynamics and efficiency of root water uptake

M. Bechmann, C. Schneider, A. Carminati, D. Vetterlein, S. Attinger, and A. Hildebrandt

Abstract. Detailed three-dimensional models of root water uptake have become increasingly popular for investigating the process of root water uptake. However, they suffer from a lack of information on important parameters, particularly on the spatial distribution of root axial and radial conductivities, which vary greatly along a root system. In this paper we explore how the arrangement of those root hydraulic properties and branching within the root system affects modelled uptake dynamics, xylem water potential and the efficiency of root water uptake. We first apply a simple model to illustrate the mechanisms at the scale of single roots. By using two efficiency indices based on (i) the collar xylem potential ("effort") and (ii) the integral amount of unstressed root water uptake ("water yield"), we show that an optimal root length emerges, depending on the ratio between roots axial and radial conductivity. Young roots with high capacity for radial uptake are only efficient when they are short. Branching, in combination with mature transport roots, enables soil exploration and substantially increases active young root length at low collar potentials. Second, we investigate how this shapes uptake dynamics at the plant scale using a comprehensive three-dimensional root water uptake model. Plant-scale dynamics, such as the average uptake depth of entire root systems, were only minimally influenced by the hydraulic parameterization. However, other factors such as hydraulic redistribution, collar potential, internal redistribution patterns and instantaneous uptake depth depended strongly on the arrangement on the arrangement of root hydraulic properties. Root systems were most efficient when assembled of different root types, allowing for separation of root function in uptake (numerous short apical young roots) and transport (longer mature roots). Modelling results became similar when this heterogeneity was accounted for to some degree (i.e. if the root systems contained between 40 and 80% of young uptake roots). The average collar potential was cut to half and unstressed transpiration increased by up to 25% in composed root systems, compared to homogenous ones. Also, the least efficient root system (homogenous young root system) was characterized by excessive bleeding (hydraulic lift), which seemed to be an artifact of the parameterization. We conclude that heterogeneity of root hydraulic properties is a critical component for efficient root systems that needs to be accounted for in complex three-dimensional root water uptake models.