Hydraulic root water uptake models: old concerns and new insights

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Valentin Couvreur1,2, Andrea Carminati3, Youri Rothfuss4, Félicien Meunier5, Jan Vanderborght4 and Mathieu Javaux5, (1)University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States, (2)Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, (3)Georg-August-Universitaet Goettingen, Division of Soil Hydrology, Goettingen, Germany, (4)Forschungszentrum Jülich, Jülich, Germany, (5)Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium
Root water uptake (RWU) affects underground water dynamics, with consequences on plant water availability and groundwater recharge. Even though hydrological and climate models are sensitive to RWU parameters, no consensus exists on the modelling of this process. Back in the 1940ies, Van Den Honert’s catenary approach was the first to investigate the use of connected hydraulic resistances to describe water flow in whole plants. However concerns such as the necessary computing when architectures get complex made this approach premature.

Now that computing power increased dramatically, hydraulic RWU models are gaining popularity, notably because they naturally produce observed processes like compensatory RWU and hydraulic redistribution. Yet major concerns remain. Some are more fundamental: according to hydraulic principles, plant water potential should equilibrate with soil water potential when the plant does not transpire, which is not a general observation when using current definitions of bulk or average soil water potential. Other concerns regard the validation process: water uptake distribution is not directly measurable, which makes it hard to demonstrate whether or not hydraulic models are more accurate than other models. Eventually parameterization concerns exist: root hydraulic properties are not easily measurable, and would even fluctuate on an hourly basis due to processes like aquaporin gating.

While offering opportunities to validate hydraulic RWU models, newly developed observation techniques also make us realize the increasing complexity of processes involved in soil-plant hydrodynamics, such as the change of rhizosphere hydraulic properties with soil drying. Surprisingly, once implemented into hydraulic models, these processes do not necessarily translate into more complex emerging behavior at plant scale, and might justify the use of simplified representations of the soil-plant hydraulic system.