Modeling the Role of Root Exudation in Critical Zone Nutrient Dynamics

Susana Roque-Malo, Dong Kook Woo, Praveen Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The multifaceted interface of plant roots, microbes, water, and soil can be considered a critical zone within the Critical Zone as it is host to many important dynamically linked processes, including the promotion of nutrient cycling through absorption and rhizodeposition, interaction and feedbacks with microorganisms and fungi, root-facilitated hydraulic redistribution, and soil carbon dynamics. Such important processes in the Critical Zone have not been fully characterized and modeled in an ecohydrologic framework linking above-ground natural and/or anthropogenic processes to below-ground biogeochemical cycling. Specifically, the relation between root exudates and nutrient cycling remains an open challenge. Here we present the model REWT (Root Exudation in Watershed-scale Transport) to demonstrate the systematic modeling of root exudation in an interconnected ecohydrologic framework. REWT incorporates an explicit dynamic root exudation transport model, nutrient absorption, and coupled microbial processes within the framework of a validated ecohydrologic model. Model simulations demonstrate the influence of root exudation of glucose, a polysaccharide that serves as fuel for microbes, and flavonoids, which can act as a biological nitrification inhibitor on microbial processes linked to soil carbon and nitrogen cycling. To demonstrate the capabilities of this theoretical framework, we parameterize REWT for corn and soybean crops in the Midwestern United States, and simulations indicate that rates of nitrification and respiration were substantially altered compared to model simulations in which root exudation was not explicitly included. This work demonstrates the importance of systematically incorporating root exudates into hydrobiogeochemical models and can serve to inform experimental design for active root zone processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019WR026606
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • Biogeochemical modeling
  • Critical Zone Science
  • Ecohydrology
  • Nutrient Dynamics
  • Root exudation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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