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  • Lopez-Sangil et al 2017

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The Automated Root Exudate System (ARES): a method to apply solutes at regular intervals to soils in the field

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>09/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>Methods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number9
Volume8
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)1042-1050
Publication statusPublished
Early online date11/04/17
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Summary

Root exudation is a key component of nutrient and carbon dynamics in terrestrial ecosystems. Exudation rates vary widely by plant species and environmental conditions, but our understanding of how root exudates affect soil functioning is incomplete, in part because there are few viable methods to manipulate root exudates in situ. To address this, we devised the Automated Root Exudate System (ARES), which simulates increased root exudation by applying small amounts of labile solutes at regular intervals in the field.
The ARES is a gravity-fed drip irrigation system comprising a reservoir bottle connected via a timer to a micro-hose irrigation grid covering c. 1 m2; 24 drip-tips are inserted into the soil to 4-cm depth to apply solutions into the rooting zone. We installed two ARES subplots within existing litter removal and control plots in a temperate deciduous woodland. We applied either an artificial root exudate solution (RE) or a procedural control solution (CP) to each subplot for 1 min day−1 during two growing seasons. To investigate the influence of root exudation on soil carbon dynamics, we measured soil respiration monthly and soil microbial biomass at the end of each growing season.
The ARES applied the solutions at a rate of c. 2 L m−2 week−1 without significantly increasing soil water content. The application of RE solution had a clear effect on soil carbon dynamics, but the response varied by litter treatment. Across two growing seasons, soil respiration was 25% higher in RE compared to CP subplots in the litter removal treatment, but not in the control plots. By contrast, we observed a significant increase in microbial biomass carbon (33%) and nitrogen (26%) in RE subplots in the control litter treatment.
The ARES is an effective, low-cost method to apply experimental solutions directly into the rooting zone in the field. The installation of the systems entails minimal disturbance to the soil and little maintenance is required. Although we used ARES to apply root exudate solution, the method can be used to apply many other treatments involving solute inputs at regular intervals in a wide range of ecosystems.