Modelling cereal root systems for water and nitrogen capture: towards an economic option

David Robinson, Ian J. Bingham, Roger Sylvester-Bradley, M. John Foulkes, Alan P. Gay, Peter J. Gregory, John A. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A quantitative model of wheat root systems is developed that links the size and distribution of the root system to the capture of water and nitrogen (which are assumed to be evenly distributed with depth) during grain filling, and allows estimates of the economic consequences of this capture to be assessed. A particular feature of the model is its use of summarizing concepts, and reliance on only the minimum number of parameters (each with a clear biological meaning). The model is then used to provide an economic sensitivity analysis of possible target characteristics for manipulating root systems. These characteristics were: root distribution with depth, proportional dry matter partitioning to roots, resource capture coefficients, shoot dry weight at anthesis, specific root weight and water use efficiency. From the current estimates of parameters it is concluded that a larger investment by the crop in fine roots at depth in the soil, and less proliferation of roots in surface layers, would improve yields by accessing extra resources. The economic return on investment in roots for water capture was twice that of the same amount invested for nitrogen capture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-390
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Botany
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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