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Effect of root systems on preferential flow in swelling soil

Effect of root systems on preferential flow in swelling soil

Communications in Soil Science & Plant Analysis 26(15-16): 2655-2666

Permeability problems on irrigated soils may be alleviated by root systems that increase water flow by creating macropores. Infiltration rates have been shown to increase where plant roots decay and serve as preferential flow paths. For low-organic-matter swelling soil, there is a question whether macropores are able to resist the lateral swelling forces of the sod. The objective of this study was to observe preferential water flow paths in a swelling soil under two cropping systems. A Holtville silty clay (clayey-over-loamy, montmorillonitic Typic Torrifluvent) was observed in situ. Two crops, alfalfa (Medicago sativa, L.) and wheat (Triticum turgidum, L.) provided sharply contrasting root systems, with wheat possessing fine, fibrous roots; alfalfa on the other hand, has a taproot system. Macropores were observed after applying soil-adsorbing methylene blue dye to irrigation water. Shrinkage cracks failed to conduct dye after 10 minutes into a flood irrigation. Earthworm (Lubricus terrestris) channels were also not stable. However, decaying roots of alfalfa produced stable macropores, while wheat produced no such macropores. The influence of alfalfa-root-induced macropores was demonstrated by the increase in final infiltration rate during alfalfa cropping which agreed with Meek et al.'s (1989, 1990) findings on sandy loam soils.

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Accession: 002604158

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DOI: 10.1080/00103629509369475

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