Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

Root length density and water uptake in cereals and grain legumes: how well are they correlated

AP Hamblin and D Tennant

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 38(3) 513 - 527
Published: 1987


Total root length per unit ground area (La) is often considered to be directly related to the amount and rate of water uptake. Experiments were conducted to compare the water use of spring wheat, barley, lupin (L. angustifolius) and field pea on four differing soil types in drought-stressed conditions. The La values of cereals were consistently five to ten times as large as those of grain legumes, whereas the aboveground biomass was sim~iar and never greater than twice that of the grain legumes. Growing-season water loss (WL) from the soil profile was very similar for wheat and lupins, despite this big difference in root length. Soil evaporation may have been greater under lupins, but when crop water uptake was compared for the period when leaf area was greatest, rates of change in soil water content within the root zone were still similar and were not well correlated with La. Specific root water uptake (Ur) was consistently greater for lupin than wheat. Maximum rooting depth was better correlated with WL than was La in all cases. Higher Ur values in lupin and pea may be related to their large and abundant metaxylem vessels, which give much lower axial resistance than in cereals. These results provide strong evidence for genotypic variation in root morphology, density and root extension between dicotyledenous and monocotyledenous species. They also indicate that La is not necessarily the root morphological characteristic most responsible for efficiency of water uptake in drought-stressed environments.

© CSIRO 1987

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