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How mechanics is involved in plant root growth in soils

Evelyne Kolb PMMH, UMR 7636, ESPCI

The mechanical strength of a soil greatly affects the development of a plant root, which in turn affects the shoot development. This is of particular importance in soil science and agronomy for crop optimization. In particular, plant roots growing in heterogeneous medium like sandy soils or cracked substrates have to adapt their growth and architecture pattern and exert radial and axial forces depending on the pore size between grains in which they penetrate or the mechanical obstacle they encounter. On the other side, plant roots reorganize the aggregates of the soil in which they penetrate and help in stabilizing the soil against landslide and erosion.
We are interested in the coupling and feedback between the root growth and the reorganization of the granular soil, i.e. what are the forces a root is able to develop on the surrounding grains and how the mechanical stress due to this environment affects the root growth at the macroscopic and tissue levels. To study such soil/root interaction, we examine the mechanisms of root penetration inside elementary constrictions mimicking the pore between soil aggregates or analogous flexible fibers in simplified experimental granular substrates and address some mechanical problems related to plant roots and dense granular packings.