We hypothesized that plant exudates could either gel or disperse soil depending on their chemical characteristics. Barley (Hordeum vulgare L. cv. Optic) and maize (Zea mays L. cv. Freya) root exudates were collected using an aerated hydroponic method and compared to chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seed exudate, a commonly used root exudate analogue. Sandy loam soil passed through a 500 -µm mesh was treated with each exudate at a concentration of 4.6 mg exudate g-1 dry soil. Two sets of soil samples were prepared, One set of treated soil samples was maintained at 4oC to suppress microbial processes. To characterize the effect of decomposition, the second set of samples was incubated at 16oC for 2 weeks at –30 kPa matric potential. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) analysis of the exudates found that barley had the largest organic acid content and chia the largest content of sugars (polysaccharide-derived or free), and maize was in between barley and chia. Yield stress of amended soil samples was measured by an oscillatory strain sweep test with a cone plate rheometer. When microbial decomposition was suppressed at 4oC, yield stress increased 20-fold for chia seed exudate and two-fold for maize root exudate compared to the control, whereas for barley root exudate it decreased to half. The yield stress after 2 weeks of incubation compared to soil with suppressed microbial decomposition increased by 85% for barley root exudate, but for chia and maize it decreased to by 87% and 54%, respectively. Barley root exudation might therefore disperse soil and this could facilitate nutrient release. The maize root and chia seed exudates gelled soil, which could create a more stable soil structure around roots or seeds.
Bibliographical noteThis research was funded by the Royal Society University Research Fellowship, BBSRC BB/J000868/1, BB/L026058/1, BB/J011460/1, NERC NE/L00237/1, EPSRC
EP/M020355/1 and ERC Consolidator grant DIMR 646809. The contributions to this project by the James Hutton Institute and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland were funded by the Scottish Government. The GC–MS analysis was carried out by Sheffield Hallam University.
- root exudate
- seed exudate
- yield stress
- soil dispersion
- soil gelling
- microbial decomposition