New Rootsnap Sensor Reveals the Ameliorating Effect of Biochar on In Situ Root Growth Dynamics of Maize in Sandy Soil

Fauziatu Ahmed*, Emmanuel Arthur, Hui Liu, Mathias Neumann Andersen

*Corresponding author for this work

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We investigated if subsoil constraints to root development imposed by coarse sand were affected by drought and biochar application over two seasons. Biochar was applied to the subsoil of pots at 20–50 cm depth in concentrations of 0%, 1%, 2%, and 3% (B0, B1, B2, and B3). Maize was grown in the same pots 1 week and 12 months after biochar application. The maize plants were fully irrigated until flowering; thereafter, half of them were subjected to drought. A new method for observing root growth dynamics and root length density in situ, the Rootsnap sensor system, was developed. The sensors were installed at 50 cm depth just below the layer of biochar-amended subsoil. Using data from a smaller experiment with grass, the calculated root length densities from the sensors were compared with data from scanning of manually washed roots. In year 2, we investigated the effect of aged biochar on root growth using only the root wash and scanning method. The Rootsnap sensor revealed that the arrival time of the first root in B3 at the 50 cm depth averaged 47 days after planting, which was significantly earlier than in B0, by 9 days. The tendency for faster root proliferation in biochar-amended subsoil indicates that biochar reduced subsoil mechanical impedance and allowed roots to gain faster access to deep soil layers. A linear regression comparing root length density obtained from the Rootsnap sensor with the scanning method yielded an r2 of 0.50. Our analysis using the scanning method further showed that under drought stress, maize roots responded with reduced root diameter and increased root length density at 50–70 cm depth in the first and second year, respectively. The trend under full irrigation was less clear, with significant decrease in root length density for B1 and B2 in year 2. Overall, reduction in subsoil mechanical impedance observed as early arrival of roots to the subsoil may prevent or delay the onset of drought and reduce leaching of nutrients in biochar-amended soil with positive implications for agricultural productivity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number949
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • drought stress
  • in situ root method
  • maize root
  • straw biochar
  • subsoil


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