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Changes in the extractability of cations (Ca, Mg and K) in the rhizosphere soil of Norway spruce (Picea abies) roots

Nutrient concentrations in the rhizosphere soil can be higher, lower or remain unchanged compared to the bulk soil, but relatively little is known about such changes for basic cations in the rhizosphere of tree roots. A modified root container technique of studying rhizosphere processes was employed. Plexiglas cylinders were horizontally split by a membrane with 30 muM mesh size into an upper compartment for root growth and a root-free lower compartment, each with an inner diameter of 5 cm and a height of 10 cm. One 2-year-old Norway spruce (Picea abies) seedling was transplanted from a nursery into each cylinder. Plants were not specifically inoculated, but roots were colonised by a mix of ectomycorrhizal fungi originating from the nursery. The nutrient poor mineral soil used in the experiment was taken from a forest site in Bayerischer Wald, southern Germany. The soil was either supplied with a mix of Ca, Mg and K, or not supplied with these cations. Plants were harvested 30 weeks after transplanting. The nylon membrane between the root compartments restricted root growth to the upper compartment, so that by the end of the experiment a root mat was formed at the top side of the membrane. In the lower compartment, soil nearest to the root mat was regarded as rhizosphere soil while soil in a distance from the root mat was regarded as bulk soil. In the upper compartment, rhizosphere soil was obtained at the end of the experiment by gently shaking the roots. The soils were analysed for Ca, Mg and K contents following two different soil extraction methods. In the fertilised treatment, H2O-extractable Ca and Mg were accumulated in the rhizosphere. In contrast, K (NH4Cl-extraction) was depleted in the rhizosphere. In the bottom tube, the depletion of K (NH4Cl-extraction) was restricted to 1 cm distance from the root mat. In unfertilised soil, Ca, Mg and K concentrations did not differ clearly between rhizosphere and bulk soils. The results indicated that the occurrence of cation gradients in the rhizosphere depended on the level of soil nutrient supply. Distinct rhizosphere effects were measured by conventional soil extraction methods only when the soil was freshly fertilised with mineral elements prior to the experiment. In this case, K depletion in the rhizosphere reflected higher K uptake by the fertilised Norway spruce plants. For low-nutrient soils, novel techniques are required to follow subtle changes in the rhizosphere.

Zhang, J.; George, E. 2002 Changes in the extractability of cations (Ca, Mg and K) in the rhizosphere soil of Norway spruce (Picea abies) roots. Plant and Soil 243, 209-217