The spatial distribution of the root system through the soil profile has an impact on moisture and nutrient uptake by plants, affecting growth and productivity. The spatial distribution of the roots, soil moisture, and fertility are affected by tillage practices. The combination of high soil density and the presence of a soil plow pan typically impede the growth of maize (Zea mays L.).We investigated the spatial distribution coordination of the root system, soil moisture, and N status in response to different soil tillage treatments (NT: no-tillage, RT: rotary-tillage, SS: subsoiling) and the subsequent impact on maize yield, and identify yield-increasing mechanisms and optimal soil tillage management practices. Field experiments were conducted on the Huang-Huai-Hai plain in China during 2011 and 2012. The SS and RT treatments significantly reduced soil bulk density in the top 0-20 cm layer of the soil profile, while SS significantly decreased soil bulk density in the 20-30 cm layer. Soil moisture in the 20-50 cm profile layer was significantly higher for the SS treatment compared to the RT and NT treatment. In the 0-20 cm topsoil layer, the NT treatment had higher soil moisture than the SS and RT treatments. Root length density of the SS treatment was significantly greater than density of the RT and NT treatments, as soil depth increased. Soil moisture was reduced in the soil profile where root concentration was high. SS had greater soil moisture depletion and a more concentration root system than RT and NT in deep soil. Our results suggest that the SS treatment improved the spatial distribution of root density, soil moisture and N states, thereby promoting the absorption of soil moisture and reducing N leaching via the root system in the 20-50 cm layer of the profile. Within the context of the SS treatment, a root architecture densely distributed deep into the soil profile, played a pivotal role in plants' ability to access nutrients and water. An optimal combination of deeper deployment of roots and resource (water and N) availability was realized where the soil was prone to leaching. The correlation between the depletion of resources and distribution of patchy roots endorsed the SS tillage practice. It resulted in significantly greater post-silking biomass and grain yield compared to the RT and NT treatments, for summer maize on the Huang-Huai-Hai plain.
Wang, X., Zhou, B., Sun, X., Yue, Y., Ma, W., & Zhao, M. (2015). Soil tillage management affects maize grain yield by regulating spatial distribution coordination of roots, soil moisture and nitrogen status. PLoS ONE, 10(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129231