Impact of root hairs on microscale soil physical properties in the field

Paul Hallett* (Corresponding Author), Maria Marin, Debbie S. Feeney, L .K. Brown, Muhammad Naveed, Nicolai Koebernick, C.S. Ruiz, Anthony G Bengough, T. Roose, T.S. George

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Aims: Recent laboratory studies revealed that root hairs may alter soil physical behaviour, influencing soil porosity and water retention on the small scale. However, the results are not consistent, and it is not known if structural changes at the small-scale have impacts at larger scales. Therefore, we evaluated the potential effects of root hairs on soil hydro-mechanical properties in the field using rhizosphere-scale physical measurements. Methods: Changes in soil water retention properties as well as mechanical and hydraulic characteristics were monitored in both silt loam and sandy loam soils. Measurements were taken from plant establishment to harvesting in field trials, comparing three barley genotypes representing distinct phenotypic categories in relation to root hair length. Soil hardness and elasticity were measured using a 3-mm-diameter spherical indenter, while water sorptivity and repellency were measured using a miniaturized infiltrometer with a 0.4-mm tip radius. Results: Over the growing season, plants induced changes in the soil water retention properties, with the plant available water increasing by 21%. Both soil hardness (P = 0.031) and elasticity (P = 0.048) decreased significantly in the presence of root hairs in silt loam soil, by 50% and 36%, respectively. Root hairs also led to significantly smaller water repellency (P = 0.007) in sandy loam soil vegetated with the hairy genotype (-49%) compared to the hairless mutant. Conclusions: Breeding of cash crops for improved soil conditions could be achieved by selecting root phenotypes that ameliorate soil physical properties and therefore contribute to increased soil health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-509
Number of pages19
JournalPlant and Soil
Early online date11 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Aberdeen University and James Hutton staff were funded by BBSRC BB/J00868/1 and Dundee University staff by BBSRC BB/L025825/1. Contributions by Southampton university were funded by BBSRC SARISA BB/L025620/1 and ERCDMR-646809. The James Hutton Institute receives financial support from the Rural & Environment Science & Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government. We are thankful to Mr Richard Keith, Mr Christopher Warden and the field staff of The James Hutton Institute for setting up, managing and maintaining the field trials.

Data Availability Statement

Supplementary Information
The online version contains supplementary material available at


  • Barley
  • Root hairs
  • Soil health
  • Soil hydromechanical properties
  • Soil structure
  • Soil water retention


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