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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences

Soil Physics

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Benard, P; Zarebanadkouki, M; Carminati, A: Impact of Pore-Scale Wettability on Rhizosphere Rewetting, Frontiers in Environmental Science, 6:16 (2018), doi:10.3389/fenvs.2018.00016 [Link]
Key words: rhizosphere, water percolation, mucilage, water repellency, rewetting, pore scale, connectivity
Vast amounts of water flow through a thin layer of soil around the roots, the rhizosphere, where high microbial activity takes place — an important hydrological and biological hotspot. The rhizosphere was shown to turn water repellent upon drying, which has been interpreted as the effect of mucilage secreted by roots. The effects of such rhizosphere water dynamics on plant and microbial activity are unclear. Furthermore, our understanding of the biophysical mechanisms controlling the rhizosphere water repellency remains largely speculative. Our hypothesis is that the key to describe the emergence of water repellency lies within the microscopic distribution of wettability on the pore-scale. At a critical mucilage content, a sufficient fraction of pores is blocked and the rhizosphere turns water repellent. Here we tested whether a percolation approach is capable to predict the flow behavior near the critical mucilage content. The wettability of glass beads and sand mixed with chia seed mucilage was quantified by measuring the infiltration rate of water drops. Drop infiltration was simulated using a simple pore-network model in which mucilage was distributed heterogeneously throughout the pore space with a preference for small pores. The model approach proved capable to capture the percolation nature of the process, the sudden transition from wettable to water repellent and the high variability in infiltration rates near the percolation threshold. Our study highlights the importance of pore-scale distribution of mucilage in the emergent flow behavior across the rhizosphere.
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