Kuhl, A. S., A. D. Kendall, R. L. van Dam, S. K. Hamilton, and D. W. Hyndman. 2021. Root water uptake of biofuel crops revealed by coupled electrical resistivity and soil water content measurements. Vadose Zone Journal 20:e20124.
Biofuel crops, including annuals such as maize (Zea mays L.), soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and canola (Brassica napus L.), as well as high-biomass perennial grasses such as miscanthus (Miscanthus ? giganteus J.M. Greef & Deuter ex Hodkinson & Renvoiz), are candidates for sustainable alternative energy sources. However, large-scale conversion of croplands to perennial biofuel crops could have substantial impacts on regional water, nutrient, and C cycles due to the longer growing seasons and differences in rooting systems compared with most annual crops. However, due to the limited tools available to nondestructively study the spatiotemporal patterns of root water uptake in situ at field scales, these differences in crop water use are not well known. Geophysical imaging tools such as electrical resistivity (ER) reveal changes in water content in the soil profile. In this study, we demonstrate the use of a novel coupled hydrogeophysical approach with both time domain reflectometry soil water content and ER measurements to compare root water uptake and soil properties of an annual crop rotation with the perennial grass miscanthus, across three growing seasons (2009?2011) in southwest Michigan, USA. We estimated maximum root depths to be between 1.2 and 2.2 m, with the vertical distribution of roots being notably deeper in 2009 relative to 2010 and 2011, likely due to the drought conditions during that first year. Modeled cumulative ET of both crops was underestimated (2?34%) relative to estimates obtained from soil water drawdown in prior studies but was found to be greater in the perennial grass than the annual crops, despite shallower modeled rooting depths in 2010 and 2011.
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