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  1. Summary Plant roots are the main supplier of carbon (C) to the soil, the largest terrestrial C reservoir. Soil pore structure drives root growth, yet how it affects belowground C inputs remains a critical knowledge gap. By combining X‐ray computed tomography with 14 C plant labelling, we identified root–soil contact as a previously unrecognised influence on belowground plant C allocations and on the fate of plant‐derived C in the soil. Greater contact with the surrounding soil, when the growing root encounters a pore structure dominated by small (< 40 μm Ø) pores, results in strong rhizodeposition but in areas of high microbial activity. The root system of Rudbeckia hirta revealed high plasticity and thus maintained high root–soil contact. This led to greater C inputs across a wide range of soil pore structures. The root–soil contact Panicum virgatum , a promising bioenergy feedstock crop, was sensitive to the encountered structure. Pore structure built by a polyculture, for example, restored prairie, can be particularly effective in promoting lateral root growth and thus root–soil contact and associated C benefits. The findings suggest that the interaction of pore structure with roots is an important, previously unrecognised, stimulus of soil C gains. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. Abstract Understanding N uptake by plants, the N cycle, and their relationship to soil heterogeneity has generated a great deal of interest in the distribution of amino-N compounds in soil. Visualization of the spatial distribution of amino-N in soil can provide insights into the role of labile N in plant-microbial mechanisms of N acquisition and plant N uptake, but until now, it has remained technically challenging. Here, we describe a novel technique to visualize the amino-N distribution at the root-soil interface. The technique is based on time-lapse amino mapping (TLAM) using membranes saturated with the fluorogenic OPAME reagent ( O -phthalaldehyde and β-mercaptoethanol). OPAME in the membrane reacts with organic compounds containing a NH 2 functional group at the membrane-soil interface, generating a fluorescent product visible under UV light and detectable by a digital camera. The TLAM amino-mapping technique was applied to visualize and quantify the concentration of amino-N compounds in the rhizosphere of maize ( Zea Mays L.). A ten times greater amino-N concentration was detected in the rhizosphere compared to non-rhizosphere soil. The high content of amino-N was mainly associated with the root tips and was 3 times larger than the average amino-N content at seminal roots. The amino-N rhizosphere was 2 times broader around the root tips than around other parts of the roots. We concluded that TLAM is a promising approach for monitoring the fate of labile N in soils. However, the technique needs to be standardized for different soil types, plant species, and climate conditions to allow wider application. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 22, 2024
  3. Pore structure is a key determinant of soil functioning, and both root growth and activity of soil fauna are modified by and interact with pore structure in multiple ways. Cover cropping is a rapidly growing popular strategy for improving agricultural sustainability, including improvements in pore structure. However, since cover crop species encompass a variety of contrasting root architectures, they can have disparate effects on formation of soil pores and their characteristics, thus on the pore structure formation. Moreover, utilization of the existing pore systems and its modification by new root growth, in conjunction with soil fauna activity, can also vary by cover crop species, affecting the dynamics of biopores (creation and demolition). The objectives of this study were (i) to quantify the influence of 5 cover crop species on formation and size distribution of soil macropores (>36 μm Ø); (ii) to explore the changes in the originally developed pore architecture after an additional season of cover crop growth; and (iii) to assess the relative contributions of plant roots and soil fauna to fate and modifications of biopores. Intact soil cores were taken from 5 to 10 cm depth after one season of cover crop growth, followed by X-ray computed micro-tomography (CT) characterization, and then, the cores were reburied for a second root growing period of cover crops to explore subsequent changes in pore characteristics with the second CT scanning. Our data suggest that interactions of soil fauna and roots with pore structure changed over time. While in the first season, large biopores were created at the expense of small pores, in the second year these biopores were reused or destroyed by the creation of new ones through earthworm activities and large root growth. In addition, the creation of large biopores (>0.5 mm) increased total macroporosity. During the second root growing period, these large sized macropores, however, are reduced in size again through the action of soil fauna smaller than earthworms, suggesting a highly dynamic equilibrium. Different effects of cover crops on pore structure mainly arise from their differences in root volume, mean diameter as well as their reuse of existing macropores. 
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  4. Abstract Bioenergy cropping systems can substantially contribute to climate change mitigation. However, limited information is available on how they affect soil characteristics, including pores and particulate organic matter (POM), both essential components of the soil C cycle. The objective of this study was to determine effects of bioenergy systems and field topography on soil pore characteristics, POM, and POM decomposition under new plant growth. We collected intact soil cores from two systems: monoculture switchgrass ( Panicum virgatum L.) and native prairie, at two contrasting topographical positions (depressions and slopes), planting half of the cores with switchgrass. Pore and POM characteristics were obtained using X-ray computed micro-tomography (μCT) (18.2 µm resolution) before and after new switchgrass growth. Diverse prairie vegetation led to higher soil C than switchgrass, with concomitantly higher volumes of 30–90 μm radius pores and greater solid-pore interface. Yet, that effect was present only in the coarse-textured soils on slopes and coincided with higher root biomass of prairie vegetation. Surprisingly, new switchgrass growth did not intensify decomposition of POM, but even somewhat decreased it in monoculture switchgrass as compared to non-planted controls. Our results suggest that topography can play a substantial role in regulating factors driving C sequestration in bioenergy systems. 
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