Water for Carbon, Carbon for Water

Carminati, Andrea and Kroener, Eva and Ahmed, Mutez A. and Zarebanadkouki, Mohsen and Holz, Maire and Ghezzehei, Teamrat

Vadose Zone Journal, vol. 15(2) , 2016.


Plant roots exude approximately 10% of the carbon assimilated through photosynthesis into the soil, a process referred to as rhizodeposition. Here, we show that the mucilaginous fraction of the rhizodeposits, referred to as mucilage, plays a crucial role on soil–plant water relation and it has the potential to increase plant drought tolerance. Mucilage is a gel that can absorb large volumes of water, altering the physical properties of the rhizosphere and maintaining the rhizosphere wet and conductive when the soil dries. It is hypothesized that mucilage acts as a hydraulic bridge between roots and the soil, facilitating root water uptake and maintaining transpiration in dry soils. By employing a simplified model of root water uptake coupled with mucilage dynamics, we found that in a sandy soil the benefit of mucilage in maintaining root water uptake commenced to manifest when the soil matric potential dropped below approximately −0.8 MPa. This critical matric potential varied with transpiration rate, root length, and exudation rate. Below the critical potential, mucilage maintained photosynthesis and resulted in a net gain of carbon. In summary, rhizodeposition modifies the physical soil environment and has an impact on transpiration and photosynthesis. In other words: water for carbon, but also carbon for water.