Abstract of the PhD thesis entitled “Chemical and biological rhizosphere
interactions in low zinc soils” by Andreas Duffner
Soil provides ecosystem services critical for life. The availability of micronutrients, such as zinc (Zn), in soils is an essential factor for normal healthy growth and reproduction of plants. Zinc deficiency is, however, a global problem in crop production due to low Zn bioavailability in soils to plants. The bioavailable Zn fraction in soils is controlled by several factors and is not directly related to the total Zn content of soils. The main objective of this thesis was the determination of factors which control Zn bioavailability in soils to plants and to assess approaches to improve the prediction of Zn plant uptake.
Based on rhizobox experiments, in situ measurements in the rhizosphere as well as multisurface- and radial transport modeling approaches it was shown that the effect of root exuded citrate for increasing plant available Zn is soil specific and does not depend on a specific concentration of low molecular weight organic acids (e.g. citric acid) in the soil solution. Using various low Zn soils at the same time in an experimental setting improved the understanding of soil-responsiveness to root exuded citrate.
Another insight was that multisurface models, which are widely used to assess the potential ecotoxicological risk in metal-contaminated soils, are also accurate to predict the Zn activity in soils with low Zn levels. The predictions were validated with the soil column Donnan Membrane Technique by using various soils with low Zn levels. It was predicted that soil organic matter is the dominant Zn sorbent and controlled the Zn activity also at low soil organic matter levels. Examples were shown how this modeling approach can be used to assess management options to increase bioavailable Zn to plants.
Using soil extracted Zn fractions to directly predict the Zn plant uptake at low Zn levels was shown to be inaccurate. Using a stepwise approach where the steps of the uptake process were characterized with, respectively, Zn solid-solution distribution, adsorption of Zn to root surface, Zn uptake into root and Zn translocation to shoot made the prediction of Zn plant uptake more accurate. Root surface adsorbed Zn was shown to be a useful proxy for the bioavailable Zn.
The framework of experimental and modeling approaches which were developed and applied in this thesis can also be used to study the plant-availability of other micronutrients at low concentration levels and how that is affected by various root exuded ligands.