Root systems play an essential role in ensuring plant productivity. Experiments conducted in controlled environments and simulation models suggest that root geometry and responses of root architecture to environmental factors should be studied as a priority. However, compared with aboveground plant organs, roots are not easily accessible by non-invasive analyses and field research is still based almost completely on manual, destructive methods. Contributing to reducing the gap between laboratory and field experiments, we present a novel phenotyping system (GROWSCREEN-Rhizo), which is capable of automatically imaging roots and shoots of plants grown in soil-filled rhizotrons (up to a volume of ~18 L) with a throughput of 60 rhizotrons per hour. Analysis of plants grown in this setup is restricted to a certain plant size (up to a shoot height of 80 cm and root-system depth of 90 cm). We performed validation experiments using six different species and for barley and maize, we studied the effect of moderate soil compaction, which is a relevant factor in the field. First, we found that the portion of root systems that is visible through the rhizotrons’ transparent plate is representative of the total root system. The percentage of visible roots decreases with increasing average root diameter of the plant species studied and depends, to some extent, on environmental conditions. Second, we could measure relatively minor changes in root-system architecture induced by a moderate increase in soil compaction. Taken together, these findings demonstrate the good potential of this methodology to characterise root geometry and temporal growth responses with relatively high spatial accuracy and resolution for both monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous species. Our prototype will allow the design of high-throughput screening methodologies simulating environmental scenarios that are relevant in the field and will support breeding efforts towards improved resource use efficiency and stability of crop yields.
Functional Plant Biology – CSIRO Publishing
Published: Jun 7, 2012
Keywords: heritability, imaging, robotised, root-system architecture, root traits, soil strength.
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